Group Meetings in 3D – Context Through Spatial Audio

There is something intrinsically special about experiences that are situated within a spatial context. Whether it’s a group meetup, training simulation, or simply a journey to find creative inspiration, having a sense of spatial presence gives our minds more contextual cues to reference and draw upon later- making it easier to retrieve memories from our experiences.

Inspired by the Sofie Hvitved’s recent articleHow will the Metaverse Change the Future of Workpublished in FARSIGHT by Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies, I wanted to expand on the difference between 2D and 3D-spatial meetings.

In Hvitved’s article, she spoke to LARVOL’s founder, Bruno Larvol, who has been working inside the metaverse for the last six months:

“A zoom call is never a real place, but to me the metaverse is. Shared memories need a physical location, and presence requires a sense of feeling close spatially… For the last 168 days, all my meetings have taken place in the metaverse. I bought headsets for everyone in the management team, so all our meetings are in virtual reality, avatar to avatar.”

LARVOL founder Bruno Larvol, quoted in How will the Metaverse Change the Future of Work by Sofie Hvitved.

This point is huge: shared memories need presence.

When talking about the difference between group meetings in 3D vs 2D, we often focus on the visual aspect of spatial presence, but one additional aspect I like to emphasize is the importance of spatial audio.

Certainly, a visual context helps spark conversations (and recall them later), but furthermore, spatial audio makes a huge difference in the moment – enabling groups to have meaningful, natural discourse. Unlike 2D Zoom calls (in which one person speaks at a time, or else you can’t understand anyone), groups meeting up in 3D virtual spaces can talk more naturally.

You can hear your friend to your left, your colleague to your right, your client in front of you — some closer, some further, and you can discern different voices around you participating in the group conversation. Then, when the discussion inspires tangential stories, a few people can physically step away from the larger group to continue a train of thought, without interrupting the larger discourse. But instead of separating entirely into zoom breakrooms, the newly formed small group can create their own desired distance, so as to continue hearing the larger group nearby – just loud enough for them to still feel connected – meanwhile enjoying enough space to have their own focused engagement. Once they’re ready (or inspired by excitement rising in the larger group), they can simply walk over and jump back into the larger discourse, naturally.

Of course, visual cues are present the entire time, too. As the large group may stand on a balcony overlooking a beautiful ocean water shader, with the subtle sound of waves hitting the shoreline beneath, the small group may gravitate towards the warm crackling roar of the cozy firepit nearby – perhaps even finding interactable toys to pick up as well, such as a marshmallow on stick to roast over the fire.

The entire interaction in 3D space takes on a much more natural-feeling connection than traditional 2D meetings. While I don’t expect (nor want) virtual meetings to ever replace physical world connections, I am grateful for this evolution in our digital methods for connecting with other people remotely – people we may have otherwise been unable to physically connect with in person.