Below is the translated version of the article published on the oVice website in Japanese.
Tools and practices described in the article apply only to RICOH BIL Tokyo located in
Japan and may be different from those at other branch offices.
Mr. Hidetoshi Kikuchi | General Manager
RICOH BUSINESS INNOVATION LOUNGE Tokyo (RICOH BIL Tokyo) is operated by Ricoh Company, Ltd. The facility aims to co-create new value by applying the company’s digital technology to the sensibilities of external partners.
Now that the coronavirus has made it difficult for customers to visit the organization directly, RICOH BIL Tokyo has introduced oVice and is operating the first floor of the virtual space as a workspace and the second floor as a lounge.
The Japanese oVice team asked the people in charge of RICOH BIL Tokyo about the facility operation using oVice – they say it has enabled them to revive real communication.
Remote work was introduced to our company after the state of emergency was declared in 2020. The same was true for RICOH BIL Tokyo, which had to be closed for a time.
In the beginning, we were using video conferencing tools to communicate with each other.
As we did so, it became difficult to conduct casual communication, such as chatting and consulting, which used to happen when employees gathered around a desk in real life.
The amount of communication throughout the entire company was reduced all at once, and the atmosphere among teammates seemed stagnant.
Also, we used to invite people from outside the company to introduce our facilities and hold meetings, but it was not easy to do online. Explaining things remotely made it difficult to create a sense of presence and immersion that we want visitors to experience.
I thought the key point was whether or not the experience would be similar to real-life communication.
I thought that oVice should allow recreating the scenes of people sitting close to each other and talking that are commonplace in an office setting.
For example, when an oVice avatar gets close to you, you can talk, but when it moves away, you can’t hear it. I think this is as close as you can get to real communication. I had an intuition that oVice could solve the problems we were having with remote communication.
Please tell us about the solutions you created to solve remote communication challenges. RICOH BIL Tokyo currently has two floors. How do you operate them?
The first floor is a workspace for employees, and the second floor is a lounge for people from outside the company.
The first floor has a unique layout that allows employees to work while relaxing, with a space where they can work while listening to the sound of a bonfire and a zone where they can play a round of golf to the sound of a golf ball.
RICOH BIL Tokyo virtual space – 1st floor. Image source: oVice Japan
On the second floor, a 360-degree camera is installed to stream the indoor view of RICOH BIL Tokyo, located in Tamachi, Tokyo. We designed the space this way to help visitors experience the facility with a sense of realism.
RICOH BIL Tokyo virtual space: 2nd floor. Image source: oVice Japan
Visitors who come to the first floor are invited to a relaxing space for an ice breaker.
When they are ready for a discussion, we go up to the second floor and let them feel the atmosphere of the facility with the 360-degree camera as we chat in the lounge.
As much as possible, we try to replicate real-life communication the way it is set up at the physical RICOH BIL Tokyo.
At first, the workspace on the first floor had the same layout as the actual office. However, it inevitably created a stiff atmosphere, and people did not actively chat with each other. With the office layout, everyone sat quietly in their seats, and those who were conversing in a quiet environment felt out of place.
So we had a discussion with our members about how we could create a chat-friendly atmosphere. We brought together ideas for our favorite places and experiences and decided to reflect them in the space. We made major changes to the layout and incorporated new elements: a bonfire corner, fishing, and a golf training ground.
People in the bonfire corner can work in a relaxed state, listening to the fire sound. People at the golf training ground also can relax by listening to the sound of hitting a golf ball.
We created a natural state, opposite of nervousness, and built an atmosphere where talking to people on a whim was effortless. It became easier to approach someone and ask “What are you doing?” or “If we’re going to talk about this, why don’t you bring this person along?”.
This way, people would invite others over for a chat. Teammates started moving around more actively and there was no discomfort in talking to each other.
Changing one layout produced a huge effect and changed the amount of interaction within the team.
Many people work in a virtual space like oVice for the first time, so it was necessary for them to get used to the platform first.
We created a document called “First Steps Guide,” which summarized the basic operations of oVice in GIF format, and spread it among our members. We also created a function that allows them to search for avatars and a chatbot to answer minor operational questions.
The best one was the event we held on oVice to celebrate the 3rd anniversary of BIL Tokyo, where nearly 300 people came to participate in the oVice experience. Since then, I have the impression that the number of people who are familiar with oVice has increased dramatically.
We have settled on the current operation after a lot of trial and error, and we feel that oVice has become an indispensable tool for us. We are always thinking about how to gather the experience and knowledge of remote workers in one place, and I think oVice is the best tool for this.
However, not everyone is 100% proficient in using the platform, and there are still people who are in the space but don’t get a lot of opportunities to talk to others, so we want to support them as well. We will continue to explore new ways to operate the facility, taking full advantage of the absence of physical limitations that online communication can offer.