Welcome to the metaverse – the virtual future of business?

This week saw the return of thousands of people to their offices in Irish cities and towns, many for the first time in 18 months. But it is a changed environment, with companies embracing digital technology to usher in a hybrid way of working.

Before coronavirus locked down the country, the idea that virtual communications could ever replace in-person meetings was something that only a few companies had embraced.

Things may be reopening, but there won’t be a wholesale return to the office of old. The digital transformation is irreversible, but the future doesn’t lie in endless Zoom or Teams calls, either. Rather, it may be a virtual world where your avatar interacts with others as if in person, providing a more effective way to network.

Welcome to the metaverse, a digital world that could soon be a hub for business and leisure.

The idea of the metaverse has been the subject of a number of books and movies, from its first appearance in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash to the Oasis in Ready Player One and plenty more besides.

One Irish company is working hard to make the metaverse for business a reality. Waterford-based VR Education has seen its development accelerated in recent months as companies have turned to new technologies to create a better way of collaborating.

VR Education was founded in 2014 by chief executive David Whelan and his wife, Sandra, the company’s chief operating officer.

Whelan’s interest in virtual reality was sparked after he backed Oculus’s original Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. As soon as he put on the headset, he knew that he wanted to get into virtual reality.

Immersive VR Education, as it was known then, was started with a €1,000 loan from Whelan’s sister in 2014. In 2018 the holding company listed on the stock markets in London and Dublin, raising £6 million.

The company’s original focus was making virtual reality experiences that brought viewers to the Apollo missions or enabled them to explore the Titanic. But soon the company turned its hand to building the Engage platform, offering educators a better, more immersive education experience.

“It is a bit of a head trip for new people when they get it,” he said.

Good for business

For VR Education, the pandemic has been a boon for business. The company had envisaged a more gradual adoption of Engage until the coronavirus outbreak shut down businesses all over the world.

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