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Introducing the PowerCube™

Face-to-face meetings can get out of hand and end up with everyone talking at the same time, with no one listening. Or, more often, some people are paying attention while others are on their laptops, distracted by things they deem to be more important.

Overview

Face-to-face meetings can get out of hand and end up with everyone talking at the same time, with no one listening. Or, more often, some people are paying attention while others are on their laptops, distracted by things they deem to be more important.

Running remote meetings and meetings in VR especially, only exacerbates the problems.

When a participant is in another building or part of the country or even another continent, what stops them from interrupting the meeting flow, intentionally or otherwise?

In Radical, Masters of Pie’s immersive collaboration framework for enterprise teams, we have many tools available that could be used to derail meetings, intentional or otherwise.

So, what stops Kevin over there from drawing clowns everywhere?

Permissions, that’s what…

Remote meetings, some problems

Ever been in a remote meeting when someone wants to share an insight they have but the presenter has no clue how to make them the presenter? The meeting is then derailed whilst everyone tries to explain what and where they should click to give that person presenter privileges.

Once they get it, the thread has been lost and the moment of brilliance has faded.

There has to be an easier way…

An easier way

A Kwakwaka’wakw man with a talking stick, photo by Edward S. Curtis

The Native Americans had some great ways to run ‘meetings’ or councils. Everyone respected everyone else’s opinion and no-one talked out of turn. 

What controlled all of that? The Talking Stick. Not holding the Talking Stick? Then don’t talk, it really is that simple.

The Talking Stick was sacred. It was tangible and very easy to pass around. No ‘how do I make you the presenter?” questions here.

Just hand over the stick, job done.

When designing a solution to the problems faced in Virtual meetings, I looked to use tangible virtual objects that could easily be seen, understood and passed around, mimicking the real world Talking Stick artefacts. The design goal was to ensure that the ‘interface’ did not ‘get in the way’ of the meetings flow, and everyone could see who had ‘the floor’ whilst the meeting progressed.

Thus, the Talking Stick was a great reference to start from. The PowerCube ™ is our Talking Stick and this is how it works in immersive environments.

Introducing the PowerCube

There is a lot of research around that shows face-to face-meetings are in fact better than virtual ones. But that doesn’t take into account the cost and wasted time of arranging and having them. There are many things that can be achieved in VR that cannot be achieved face-to-face, making the whole process significantly more efficient. 

The immersive medium offers more possibilities as well as more issues, a double edged sword. So…

Back to Kevin.

Kevin can be disruptive, Kevin can be annoying and Kevin can also be a genius (and that’s why we keep him in the team).

We do like Kevin, and we need him to participate and be inspired – but not drawing clowns.

So how do we manage this? 🧐

Back to permissions.

Every tool and experience within Radical has an associated permission. Permissions are the ‘Virtual Talking Stick’ control. Since we cannot rely on social etiquette alone, permissions enforce it for us.

When I’m about to run a meeting in which Kevin is an attendee, I set my permissions so that only the presenter (me initially) is allowed to use the Annotation tool. This stops Kevin in his tracks and keeps him, and everyone else, focused.

Permissions are controlled via the PowerCube interface which can be set up ahead of the meeting and further tweaked during the meeting.

Since the presenter is the only person who has access to these permissions, they have permission to use any of the tools, so as they talk, they can annotate as they go along.

Since fiddling with settings in VR can be well,  fiddly, the PowerCube permissions settings are designed to be lightweight.

I specifically avoided assigning permissions on a per person model as this gets overly complex very quickly. Thus, the PowerCube manages the meeting presets in an ‘applied or not applied’ to all users. Simple.

Hey I need to draw something…

This situation is easy to control and is akin to our conversation earlier around the “how do I make you a presenter?” issue. With the Talking Stick, I would simply pass you the Talking Stick. With the PowerCube, I simply send you the PowerCube.

It’s that simple.

The PowerCube lives above the presenter’s head in the VR session. Thus everyone can see it and the presenter has easy access to it at all times.

To send it, the presenter reaches up and grabs it with the trigger on the controller. While holding the PowerCube, they point it at the person they wish to make the presenter, then release the trigger and it flies across the scene and settles above the new presenters’ head. Done.

The interaction was designed to be very easy to talk through should someone need to pass the PowerCube who has never interacted with it before.

One more level of simple

We talked about how things get complex when we assign privileges per person with multi-layered permissions systems. Thus, to further simplify things, the PowerCube itself has 2 modes:

  • Presenter mode
  • Collaboration mode

Presenter mode

Presenter mode acts as described above. Certain permissions are pre-set and control the main flow of the meeting.

Collaboration mode

Collaboration mode essentially opens up the floor for anyone to have full access to all the tools as if they were the presenter. The presenter controls the PowerCube and can revert back to presentation mode at the flick of a switch should things get out of hand, but the theory is that this is a tool to help teams focus, not restrict interactions.

The PowerCube has icons that show which mode is currently active at any time:

Presenter restricted

Open Collaboration

And finally, no, you cannot just walk up and steal the PowerCube from the presenter, though I’m sure someone will try…

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talking_stick
https://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/TraditionalTalkingStick-Unknown.html
https://www.educatorsforpeacefulclassroomsandcommunities.org/resources/peace-tools/the- story-of-the-talking-stick/
https://www.ictinc.ca/blog/first-nation-talking-stick-protocol