Since COVID-19 erupted more than two years ago, we have spent countless hours communicating and collaborating inside of those now-ubiquitous tiny, video conferencing boxes. While the format was challenging at first, we soon grew able to work as equal participants, each sharing the same amount of screen space, tools, and opportunities to speak and be heard.
Now as many of us are returning to the office, the how, where, and when of collaborating at Meta is evolving. Today, some of my colleagues remain entirely remote, others are hybrid, splitting their time between home and office, while a smaller group of essential employees works at one of our offices.
This fluidity of experiences is what I call our “New Now.” In this new paradigm, where and how we work changes depending on the optimal experience for the individual and most efficient ways to maximize collaboration. In this “new now,” people have the freedom to work wherever and however is best for them.
As a leader within Meta’s Enterprise Engineering, my team is responsible for building and scaling services that enable this new future. And while we’ve spent considerable time brainstorming ways to create inclusive experiences across virtual and physical spaces, we ultimately come back to the same premise: The glass should not matter. What that means is that all of the tools and technologies we give employees should consistently empower every worker to speak, be heard, and feel included.
We think of this as “equity of experience.” And with remote collaboration, equity of experience starts with video.
One of our first responses to the pandemic was to supercharge our video conferencing, ensuring that all employees remained an integral part of a remote or hybrid work experience by creating feature parity on every Meta “glass screen.” Even before March 2020, we were already facilitating more than 50 million minutes of video every month, and that number increased three-fold very quickly. So accomplishing this meant building and scaling our own tools and using third-party tools where it made sense.
Looking forward, our team is developing new features that will create a more immersive and equitable experience for hybrid meetings. Some of those features include:
- Enabling participants to share multiple presentations simultaneously regardless of location.
- Building the latest noise-cancellation technology on Meta’s premises.
- Tools that allow Meta technicians to remotely assess the acoustics of a remote worker’s office to ensure their sound levels match those of the headquarter’s spaces.
- A smart cropping tool that can locate individual speakers in a conference room regardless of where they are sitting and frame them in the video conference interface.
- The ability for members of a video conference meeting to turn off their cameras and have themselves replaced with augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) versions of themselves that can mimic their gestures and add animations that present sentiment and emotion through response emojis.
As we build these tools, we’re partnering with leaders across our organization, and the industry at large, to develop standards and protocols that will define best practices for years to come.
Our focus on building these tools is central to our vision for building the future of work. This mindset led to the conclusion that one of the best ways to build this “New Now” would be to lean into the development of tools in AR/VR. So, we are doing just that.
Meta’s Horizons Workrooms, for example, is an app for the Quest 2 headset that makes it possible for employees to literally sit down together in the same virtual room, regardless of physical location. Once inside, workers can virtually whiteboard ideas, collaborate on documents, respond to the body language and mannerisms of their colleagues (just as they would in a physical setting), and even have digital “water cooler” conversations to fulfill the social aspects of being in a workplace. These experiences enable more meaningful collaborations in a hybrid work environment.
This mindset of futuristic collaboration is also propelling us toward the metaverse. And as any new model for working will have its challenges, the metaverse is no exception. Just as NASA once worried about astronauts spending too much time in space and HR leaders warned of Zoom fatigue during the pandemic, our team is constantly considering the potential side effects of new types of work environments.
Here are just a few of the key questions we’ve discussed lately: As we integrate Workrooms, how much headset time should employees ask from their colleagues? How long can someone reasonably wear a headset before it becomes uncomfortable or distracting? As this New Now continues, how do we create true parity for people working remotely and those in office?
For every answer we find, two more questions seem to arise, as is often the case when you are navigating uncharted territory. That’s why we’re doing our utmost to attract and retain the brightest minds out there — talented individuals able to grapple with and develop solutions to such questions.
We’re continuing to introduce radically innovative technologies and tools that will enable work in the New Now. I’m proud of the tools we’ve already delivered, which have contributed to the cultural shifts taking place. At the same time, we are continually looking for partners and talent to take things to the next level.
I like to say that at Meta Enterprise Engineering, we connect the people who connect the world. That’s why we’re seeking to collaborate with fellow innovators to help develop the tools and new spaces that will thrive in the metaverse environment. As we work to address the New Now today, we know that the “New Tomorrow” is just around the corner. And with all the exciting things we’re building, we’re sure to have a hand in shaping what that tomorrow looks like.