“The corporate metaverse, an issue for the future of work”

By Philippe Guerrier | the † Workspace

Virtuality 2022 show: In an interview, the CEO of Manzalab discusses the vision of the corporate metaverse or how companies are investing in these immersive spaces with collaboration and HR initiatives.

Clément Merville, CEO Manzalab (show Virtuality Paris, 2022) – © DR

Specialist in immersive environments (virtual training, serious gaming, etc.), manzalab has been exploring innovative ways to develop the collaboration dimension on behalf of companies for 10 years by leveraging virtual reality or augmented reality.

With its teams between Paris, Aix-en-Provence and Singapore, the technology company has made its mark in the business metaverse by offering dedicated technology (Teemew) and the first customer cases, such as the virtual campus of the digital services company Sopra Steria, which was presented at the recent Virtuality Fair organized from March 17-18, 2022 in Paris.

Clément Merville, CEO and co-founder of Manzalab, explains the vision and pragmatic approach.

Why are virtual reality players exploring the potential of metaverses?

At the origin of the metaverse

• We have to go back to the origin of the word metaverse, abbreviated from meta (“beyond” in Greek) and universe, or metaverse in English. The word was coined in 1992 by American science fiction author Neil Stephenson in his novel The Virtual Samurai.
• A vision found in Mark Zuckerberg who changed the name of his Facebook group to Meta in November 2021 and who bought Oculus in 2014 after the name of a virtual reality specialist known for his VR headsets.
• The approach is also found in Ready Player One, a science fiction novel written in 2011 by Ernest Cline that was a huge success with the Steven Spielberg film adaptation in 2018 and which inspired Palmer Lucky, founder of ‘Oculus.

Manzalab was founded in 2010 with my partners Vincent Berlioz and Emmanuel Le Gouguec. We come from the video game industry with the firm intention of developing the virtual reality experience on behalf of companies. We have been developing serious games adapted to the world of training for 7 years, exploring the concept of the virtual world – today metaverse -.

As it stands, there is no difference between the metaverse and the virtual Second Life world that emerged in the early 2000s. The focus is on creating persistent virtual universes by communicating through personalized avatars. But the ultimate promise with the metaverse is to break boundaries and promote interoperability between virtual worlds.

At Manzalab, we take a different business metaverse-oriented approach:

  • virtual reality doesn’t necessarily mean entertainment. It is also about companies.
  • the use of a virtual reality headset is not essential in our view. At Manzalab we have been going in this direction for 10 years and we now know its limits.

The web browser-based approach overcomes this glass ceiling. With our technology Teemew (“We Meet” vice versa) made available to companies, we want metaverses to be as accessible as possible on all screens.

Our architecture, based on the WebGL software layer available for example in the Google Chrome browser, is designed to support unrestricted access.

  • In 2022 we will roll it out to smartphones and tablets.
  • By the end of 2022, we will offer it on Microsoft Teams.

What are the issues surrounding the business metaverse?

The Covid-19 crisis served as a transition period, even if the approach to virtual reality is elitist, i.e. rather targeting CAC 40 groups with the use of virtual headsets.

We realized we needed to democratize access to virtual reality through our Teemew platform. In 2020, we denied it for computers (PC and Mac) and flat screens from an executable [logiciel]† Now we offer a 100% web-based version through the browser.

Advantage of our business metaverse solution: it does not require data center resources. Everything is controlled locally on the user’s terminal.

We are the only professional metaverse solution that can accommodate so many people. Yesterday [16/03/2022]we organized a virtual event with Dassault Systèmes that brought 1,400 people together and we observed peaks with more than 400 people connected at once.

What is at stake is the future of work. We are already there with the rise of telecommuting against the backdrop of the Covid-19 crisis. In terms of work organization, we are not going back. But companies will have to reorganize thoroughly.

Microsoft has summarized this transformation in “hybrid work paradox”.

  • The term “hybrid” serves to underline the distinction between professional activity in the office and at home.
  • “Paradox” shows that despite the desire for flexibility in the organization of work, the bond with the company and contact with teams and colleagues are also important.

It is important to respond to the feeling of attachment during this period of movement. According to a recent survey from Microsoft, 45% of respondents feel they have “fewer reasons to stay with their current company”.

In this metaverse business approach, the notion is: virtual presence is important. The aim is to create a sense of real presence in a virtual environment and rediscover the pleasure and feeling of reuniting with colleagues.

Studied in cognitive sciences, virtual presence is based on three levers:

  • the sense of self-presence,
  • the sense of spatial presence,
  • the sense of virtual co-presence (virtual interactions with others).

To what extent can the corporate metaverse be used to strengthen the ties between employees and companies?

Above all, it would strengthen the broken bond between employees with the organization of hybrid work. Concrete and relevant applications are starting to emerge with Teemew and the business metaverse:

  • Sopra Steria Academy (ESN’s internal training organization) has set up a virtual campus that has made it possible to welcome 1400 new employees during a remote onboarding seminar. A marked trajectory of two days has been set up with workshops, networking and informal meetings on the virtual platform.
  • a large French bank Manzalab has been working with our Teemew technology for a year now.
  • the group SNCF, EDF or Capgemini† The development stages vary between “POC+” or more advanced projects.
Virtuality Paris 2022 fair: Adrien Keruzore, Digital Learning Manager, Sopra Steria Academy, presents the ESN virtual campus - © DR
Virtuality Paris 2022 fair: Adrien Keruzore, Digital Learning Manager, Sopra Steria Academy, presents the ESN virtual campus – © DR

By the end of the year, we will be able to integrate Teemew directly into Microsoft Teams. We are currently setting up internal experiments in this direction.

Then we can leave the hand to client companies to set up their own metaverses and turn traditional video conferencing into immersive universes with 3D personalized avatars featuring realistic participant profiles, who can integrate their 2D photos.

How do you market business metaverse modules?

Our most important discussion partners are often the innovation departments. We provide a white label platform that is adapted to your wishes within a few days.

It’s like a board on which we put LEGO bricks to make fun constructions. From another angle, it resembles the Minecraft video game in which virtual environments are built.

  • At Teemew, we charge a subscription to the capacity of receiving guests – per month or per day in the event approach – in the corporate metaverse.

For example, we work together with Kwark Education, which has set up its metaverse METAKWARK for companies, federations, institutions, CFAs, schools and training organisations.

  • Once integrated into Teams, the model will revolve around the number of registered users to align with that of Microsoft’s collaboration platform.

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