Virtual Collaboration in a Post-Pandemic World

By Jennifer Betts posted 02-16-2021 21:44

Please enjoy this blog post by Jennifer Betts, Co-Office Managing Shareholder, Ogletree Deakins.

Communication and collaboration are at the core of the effective practice of law. As we slowly emerge from the pandemic and enter our newest new normal, law firm leadership must assess how to continue to encourage collaboration, communication, and teamwork across offices. This is particularly true as most predict that the legal workforce will continue to operate in a hybrid fashion – with some team members in physical offices and others working remotely in a virtual environment.

Over the past year, many law firms have embraced video meeting apps and other digital collaboration tools, such as web-based applications, that allow groups to share documents and information through online portals. In addition to the use of video meeting apps, many law firms have also explored team chat apps as part of their remote work environment. In addition to these more traditional collaboration tools, emerging virtual collaboration tech continues to be developed and may provide a resource for law firms striving to maintain firm culture and engagement while team members are physically separate.

One example of this emerging tech is the development of “virtual worlds” for work. A virtual world involves a computer-generated, shared online virtual environment. In many instances, users of virtual worlds interface with the virtual environment, and with each other, through avatars, or digital personal representations. Typically, avatars mimic a user’s real physical appearance. In an avatar-driven virtual world, users speak with one another using microphones (or phone lines), send messages through the virtual platform, and share documents with one another. The virtual environment can be modeled off of a physical office or conference suite – each user can have his or her own desk, cubicle, or office, and can “drop in” to chat with other users spontaneously as well as collaborate in scheduled meetings. Often, in a virtual world, the users have a mechanism to note if they are “available” for chatting with other users and, through the users’ avatars, the team members can bump into one another to talk by the virtual water cooler.
Depending on the technology used, virtual worlds can feel to a user as if they were in a video game-like environment.

Similar to the use of avatars in virtual worlds, other companies are exploring the use of holographic collaboration. With users typically relying on a virtual reality (or VR) headset, holographic collaboration technology places users into a shared setting to interact, collaborate, and share documents and ideas with a 3-d hologram of a team member.

These “next phase” examples of virtual collaboration technologies are being developed in an effort to mimic -- to the greatest extent possible -- in-person meetings no matter where users are placed (at home or in the office). Some users of current video collaboration platforms raise concerns that staring at static tiles of user faces for lengthy meetings does not foster togetherness or allow users to capture social cues that the real world provides. By contrast, advanced virtual collaboration tools are designed to give users the impression that they are all sharing the same physical space. Indeed, in a virtual world, for example, users may be able to feel less constrained and more natural in their interactions.

Already, some law firms are exploring these technologies on a pilot basis. And as law firms continue to evolve and grow out of the pandemic, it will be imperative to identify ways to compete and deliver services in new and innovative ways while maintaining organizational cultural values. As the technology underlying advanced collaboration tools continues to develop, they may prove an effective mechanism to further client service goals while fostering improved culture.
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1 comment



02-19-2021 17:02

I'm new to VR, having recently gotten an Oculus Quest 2. Some of the experiences in that environment are really incredible. But it's very difficult for me to imagine how it could be used for collaborative business purposes. If I want to have a conversation with someone about a serious topic, I think I want to have that conversation while looking at an actual human being (e.g. on Teams or Zoom) and not with a cartoon avatar or even a hologram (at least not the kind of hologram I'm imagining). Are there any VR experiences available today that offer the sort of collaboration environment you're describing?