Harvard MBA alumni held reunion in the metaverse due to COVID

This year, Harvard Business School’s 2017 MBA class settled in another location to host their annual classroom reunion: the Metaverse.

When alumni sat down to plan the event in December 2021, travel restrictions and a rising Omicron strain of COVID-19 made it unclear when the class of 2017 would have the next chance to see each other in person, Sean West, the organizer of the event, told Insider.

Disliked a massive video call, West met a few times a year, deciding that a metaverse-based event would allow them to recreate the sense of being personal, he told Insider.

90 people from 28 countries wore Oculus Quest headsets to watch their former professor, Ranjay Gulati, give a talk about his new book, before going to a virtual square to catch up.

Ranjay Gulati, author of Deep Purpose, gave a speech to some of his former students at a metaverse book reunion.  His avatar sits in front of a virtual screen and shows a picture of the book's cover.

The opening featured a speech by former class professor Ranjay Gulati about his new book.

enchant


The concept of the metaverse is not new and remains quite vague, but is generally seen as the future of the internet where people will use virtual reality and digital avatars.

Critics claim it’s overhyped and worry that a fully immersive digital world could “break reality”, leaving users open to exploitation for their data, or by other users.

However, proponents like West believe the metaverse has the potential to transform the way people shop, ravingBank, find a jobeven buy real estate

In a post-COVID world, it’s the technology’s ability to bring people together, in ways that feel like they’re personal, where the metaverse has the most immediate potential. It has the additional advantage of saving costs and travel time.

West is the co-founder of Hence Technologies, a legal tech startup, but he also sits on the advisory board of Mesmerise, a UK startup specializing in VR events, which built and hosted the reunion venue.

For West, a Harvard reunion usually involves the “serious cost of time” of an eight-hour flight from London, jet lag, and then a cluttered schedule of three or four days. The metaverse event lasted about 90 minutes in total, West said:

“Nobody had to miss work. Nobody got stuck because they couldn’t get a visa,” West told Insider. “No Covid.”

Mesmerise mailed all 90 attendees Oculus Quest headsets.

During the event, the class split into two groups of 45, each spending half an hour with Gulati before going to a “digital square” to mingle.

“On a


Zoom

call, if you want to take people aside to talk one-on-one with you, it’s exclusive, I need to create a break room and tell you to join me,” West said.

“In VR we just jumped in the square, you’re out of earshot of everyone else. It’s just like in real life,” he added.

The technology is not yet at the stage where this is feasible on a full-time basis, but that could change

Avatar participants of a Harvard reunion in the Metaverse stand in a circle to network.

No visas, no jet lag and no covid were just some of the benefits of the event in the Metaverse.

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Microsoft founder Bill Gates has previously said that most virtual meetings could move to the metaverse within two or three years. However, VR technology still has a long way to go before that vision is realized.

A recent study by researchers in Germany attempted to measure the impact of working in VR for an entire working week. Two of the 18 participants quit within a day, while the rest generally felt less productive, more anxious and more frustrated by the end of the week, compared to a week they normally spent. The weight and clumsiness of the headsets was identified as an issue.

“Today, VR is sometimes a tool,” West said. “The portability and price of devices cannot be overstated by the importance of the shift,” West said.

The experience can also be daunting for people who have never experienced it before, and there are some experiences, like watching a movie, where VR makes it much worse, West said.

However, compared to the cost of attending and hosting an event, he can justify paying $300 for a device so people can participate, he said.

The class has an in-person reunion scheduled for October, but for West, it’s just a matter of time before the metaverse goes mainstream.

“When we first went online, if someone told me my mom would buy books on Amazon to send to me in London, I’d say no — but someone would’ve stood up and said it will be possible. question is whether it is possible five years, 10 years or 15 years away?”

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