Ever wondered how the companies behind your favorite tech use their own products? We’ve told you how Twitter uses Twitter, and how Spotify uses Spotify. We talked to Meta execs about how they use Meta’s workplace tools.
The idea of strapping on VR goggles and gathering with avatar co-workers is still, fundamentally, weird. At a Horizon Workrooms showcase for reporters back in August 2021, Meta CTO Andrew Bosworth admitted that weirdness is a “problem that VR always had.” Meta’s vision of the metaverse, especially within the workplace, has been met with a good deal of skepticism. Why go through the effort of supplying employees with VR goggles when an old-fashioned video call does the trick?
“Obviously, it’s very emerging technology,” said Meta’s VP of People Brynn Harrington. “It’s not something we’re able to use in every meeting yet. But just using it has helped me get a sense of what virtual presence is going to look like in the future.”
Though the company unveiled Workrooms eight months ago, the tech is still in very early stages.
Meta’s future of work team meets in Workrooms each week; with Meta investing so much in VR as the future of the workplace, it would be odd not to. “It would be pretty disingenuous if we weren’t in Workrooms for that meeting,” Harrington said. The meeting consists of eight people, which is the ideal size for Workrooms right now, according to Harrington.
The Workrooms future of work meetings are held at a consistent time each week, as spontaneity doesn’t really work when it comes to VR. You have to make sure your Quest headset is charged and ready, and the laptop app is updated to the latest version. Harrington said people are starting to become more comfortable with sharing their screens and using whiteboards via Workrooms.
“This is really basic, but alignment and predictability around when this technology can be used gives people a heads-up and the planning time they need to make sure that they can work really productively,” Harrington said. She’s been surprised by a spontaneous Workroomified meeting before and doesn’t recommend it. If your headset isn’t charged or you don’t have one, you can join a meeting via video camera. It’s not the end of the world, but it feels more awkward.
Christine Trodella, formerly the head of Workplace from Meta, is now in charge of B2B sales at Meta’s Reality Labs research firm. Her job will be to market Meta’s automated and virtual reality tools to businesses, when those tools are ready for a full rollout. Meta is still very much in the dogfooding stage when it comes to Workrooms.
“The first [Workrooms meeting] I got into, we were all so giddy to be in it, I don’t think we even conducted our meeting,” Trodella said. “We were playing with all the bits and bobs and giggling and stuff.”
Meta employees (Metamates, I guess I should say) can sign up to test out the Quests and
Workrooms, whether they work remotely or in the office. As part of the program, they commit to two or three Workrooms meetings a week and provide regular feedback on the product. After Meta ships them a headset, they undergo a brief training program. “We’re encouraging full teams to collectively sign up for dogfooding,” Harrington said. “This doesn’t work effectively unless we’re all doing it.”
VR isn’t for everyone. Some people, especially women, experience motion “cyber” sickness. As an HR executive, Harrington is most focused on how to make the Workrooms experience as equitable as possible. One aspect is allowing people to accurately express their identities though avatar. Another is simply giving people the time and resources to learn.
Antonio Gomez, a software engineer in London, said his daily Workrooms meetings are incredibly immersive. Julie Cullinane, a B2B industry manager for Facebook in New York, pushed her team to switch over to Workrooms entirely. It was a way to quickly get up to speed with VR tech. She loves commenting on avatar outfits at the start of each meeting, as well as high-fiving each other.
Horizon Workrooms is only the latest and flashiest tool that Meta employees use to support their work. Workplace, Meta’s internal communication platform, is another essential part of the company toolkit. The tech world became intimately acquainted with Workplace in October 2021 when former employee Frances Haugen leaked a trove of documents that had been posted on the platform. Some screenshots showed remarkably frank comments from employees, expressing criticism and honest feedback about the company.
Honesty is the point, as Harrington uses Workplace to “get a pulse” on how people really feel about working at Meta. She uses Workplace groups like “Remote Social,” a space for full-time remote workers, to learn more about the challenges employees face at work. “If we announce a new product feature internally, the person who launched that product is actively engaging in that thread,” Harrington said.
This type of product feedback was on full display in the Facebook Papers, one example being Facebook's plan to introduce more private spaces within the app in March 2019. Former head of Facebook app Fidji Simo’s post prompted scores of comments, mostly positive but some negative feedback as well.
Like any central communication tool, Workplace brings together co-workers with similar interests. Mark Guth, a chef in Seattle, said he found fellow skiing, tennis and fried chicken enthusiasts. “Being a chef at a tech company can often feel isolating, but I get a lot of social mileage out of Workplace and I’m grateful for that,” Guth said.