Marketing

Agencies are investing in VR headsets and other tech to simulate in-person work experiences

A B2B agency exec told us around 10% of its staff “is in the metaverse at any given time.”
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Illustration: Dianna “Mick” McDougall, Photos: Better Than Unicorns, Goodway Group

· 5 min read

“Strap on your VR glasses; we’ve got a meeting” could become a common refrain for marketers.

Why? Several agencies and marketing firms have already invested in VR headsets like Meta’s Oculus, indicating that, one day, the metaverse could be the industry’s new Zoom.

Some are hosting annual summits in VR. Others are shifting meetings from Zoom to VR workspaces like Horizon Workrooms (which is currently in beta testing), or experimenting with VR glasses and platforms like Decentraland to better advise clients on the subject. One CEO told us he bought his employees Oculus headsets just so they could bond over activities like VR minigolf.

“The technology allows us to connect in ways better than having the bat phone in the middle of the conference table and everybody shouting into it,” Simeon Edmunds, SVP and creative director of Mediahub’s R+D Lab, told Marketing Brew. “We’re finding usefulness not just in helping us produce a better work product, but also in understanding what’s emerging.”

Work hard

Mediahub started using the metaverse in December—specifically rented land in Decentraland—as a recruitment tool to differentiate itself from its competitors, Edmunds told Marketing Brew.

Since then, Mediahub, which has “maintained a very flexible stance” on WFH, according to Edmunds, has been working on educating its employees about VR.

Edmunds and R+D Lab creative technologist Lacey Nein hosted a class on the metaverse and one on NFTs, Nein told us, and the agency has been setting up VR headsets in rooms at some of its offices around the world for employees to test out when they stop by, according to Edmunds. He estimated that more than 40% of Mediahub staffers globally have tried them out so far.

“We’re not trying to force people into this thing,” Edmunds said. “We want them to see, ‘Oh, this is cool,’ and then move from that.”

Mediahub has also been speaking with clients about its metaverse experience, according to Edmunds, so the agency continues to invest in VR for educational purposes.

“When clients call, we’re not going and doing research,” Edmunds said. “We’re already ahead of it, because we've used it and we’re comfortable with it.”

Bret Starr, founder and CEO of B2B marketing agency The Starr Conspiracy, which helps clients that are focused on the future of work and workplace technology, said he started experimenting with VR for work purposes after reading a 2020 New York Times article citing data showing employees weren’t missing the office experience.

Starr ran a couple of similar surveys among his approximately 80 employees, and found that they were “all about” working from home, but “reported feeling disconnected from colleagues and occasional feelings of isolation.” The agency had gone “completely remote forever in April of 2020,” so Starr got himself an Oculus headset to try out.

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“You’ve got literally blinders on, so distractions aren’t occurring,” he said. “I found that I was getting into a much deeper state of work.”

Starr bought a headset for his COO next, then for about 10 more employees. By December, he bought one for every employee and then some—a backlog for new hires and clients interested in VR. It cost about $50,000 for the hardware alone, Starr said.

Now, “probably 10% of our agency is in the metaverse at any given time,” he said, doing anything from meetings to trivia nights to baby showers, activities they used to do via Zoom.

“We now do those in the metaverse, and they’re much more engaging and fun,” Starr said.

Play hard

Digital media and marketing agency Goodway Group has been fully remote since 2008, but typically hosts two in-person summits per year. This February’s summit went hybrid with the incorporation of VR, said Goodway’s chief transformation and people officer Kandi Gongora.

The agency tapped into its travel budget to fund the purchase of Oculus headsets for its 477 employees, according to Gongora.

Goodway Group worked with VR and facilitation company Better Than Unicorns on the summit, and to create its branded workspace on VR platform Remio. Their relationship is ongoing; Better Than Unicorns founder and CEO Brett McCall helps new hires get the hang of VR, for instance, so they can participate in team meetings and bonding events like VR basketball, cornhole, and frisbee, Gongora said.

Goodway Group employees attend VR happy hours “pretty often,” Gongora said, and recently started participating in a “play session” with activities like paintball every Friday afternoon.

B2B marketing software company Wistia, which is still in a predominantly WFH setup, uses VR in a similar manner, although meetings are “more rare” than leisure activities like minigolf tournaments, said co-founder and CEO Chris Savage.

By tapping into the portion of the budget that used to be reserved for in-person company culture activities, Savage gave all his 180 employees Oculus headsets at the end of last year.

For Savage, VR gives his team “freedom to experiment” while working remotely.

“You have to be more purposeful when teams are remote to do that,” he said. Even if it’s not in the metaverse, he advised other leaders to “find the thing in your company where you can let people experiment with how they spend time together and how they connect.”

“If you’re not doing that, you’re missing out,” Savage said.

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