I remember when everyone thought that videoconferencing was going to cause a decline in business travel. After all, travel is a hassle — it’s expensive, time-consuming, bad for the environment and many employees, especially those who have been doing it awhile, don’t really like it. Videoconferencing companies leveraged these arguments to entice customers into investing in high-end videoconferencing systems, touting the way of the future, happier employees and happier accountants. But business travel didn’t decline — it continued to grow, even as videoconferencing technologies became better, easier, cheaper and more widely available. This isn’t to say that videoconferencing didn’t proliferate, because it did. It just didn’t replace nearly as many in-person meetings as everyone thought it would.
There are probably many reasons this happened, but one I want to mention is the difficult-to-quantify benefits of going somewhere in person — the casual conversations with someone sitting next to you at a conference or unplanned introductions or casual lunches that turn into partnerships or deals — the value of coincidence.
Lately one of our columnists, Joel Rollins, has been experimenting with the use of virtual reality for AV applications and in his column below, he talks in particuar about its potential use in meetings. Could virtual reality do what videoconferencing didn’t? It does potentially allow for more happenstance — if you attend a conference in virtual reality, you don’t just watch a live stream of a presenter, or videoconference into a session — you have a presence at a place, as do other people, so you could still make idle chit chat with someone sitting next to you and strike up a conversation in real-time, or run into an old friend, unplanned. It just may happen that the person you chat with is physically in Japan while you’re in Connecticut, which is pretty cool if you ask me.