Satya Nadella at Microsoft Ignite 2021 embraced the Metaverse this week. Announcing Mesh for Microsoft Teams, a 2D/3D virtual environment for team collaboration. I’ll explain how Microsoft Teams works in government I.T. and how Mesh could change nothing.
IRL Team Meetings
I work in government I.T. as a system administrator for a federal cybersecurity project. Since this is a Microsoft shop, we use Microsoft Teams for all our meetings. During a typical work week, I attend half-dozen meetings of various sizes and usages of video.
- Small meetings with a half-dozen people and one person speaking on video.
- Medium meetings with 30 to 50 people and one or two people speaking on video.
- Large meetings with 300 people and no one speaking on video.
Two reasons for why video isn’t in use: privacy and bandwidth.
Since everyone works from home, no one wants to be on video. The background blurring effect does a good job at hiding what is behind someone. If someone moves around, the blurring effect flickers and the background is visible. Not everyone has an empty bedroom for their work from home office.
I have a piece of black tape covering the webcam on my work laptop. A practice that I followed after FBI Director James Comey admitted to taping his webcam in 2016. When I do pull back the tape on webcam, I’m trying to win a $25 US gift card for wearing the t-shirt color of the month.
A technical reason for not using video is the lack of bandwidth. If 300 people are using video in a meeting, Teams will slow down, drop callers, and have poor audio. The simplest solution is turn off or limit the use of video.
Keep in mind that government I.T. has many employees in many locations throughout the U.S. Bandwidth can vary from location to location and sometimes within the same site. Large corporations have fewer employees in fewer locations and can afford better bandwidth.
If bandwidth for video is a problem, a virtual environment will demand even more bandwidth.
Mesh for Microsoft Teams
When Mesh for Microsoft Teams become available, 2D avatars will be available at first. An ideal version of yourself with a virtual background that reveals nothing personal. Using 2D avatars can present the same bandwidth problems as using video.
As for a 3D virtual environment, bandwidth is not the only consideration. Each team member will need their own 3D equipment. Microsoft sells different models of the HoloLens 2 headset from $3,000 US to $5,200 US.
To put those numbers into perspective, my work laptop cost $3,000 US. Adding virtual gear will double the cost to $6,000 US per employee. I don’t see the Metaverse coming to government I.T. anytime soon.