BlueJeans to Bring Virtual Watercooler to Remote Workers

Companies are struggling to recreate the serendipity of office interactions as many teams continue to work remotely due to the pandemic, but they could soon have a new option to try close the gap.

Verizon Communications Inc’s video chat app BlueJeans announced it will begin testing a feature called Spaces, or virtual rooms where people as 3D cartoonish avatars can hang out, overhear conversations and join them.

Rivals, including Zoom Video Communications Inc and Microsoft Corp, also have been developing features to foster spontaneous conversation in their chat tools. But BlueJeans’ planned offering, which also is available in a 2D version with headshots replacing avatars, is among the most advanced.

Verizon said it developed a new graphics rendering system to make the Spaces feature work across mobile and desktop devices.

Invited customers will test the feature in the fourth quarter, BlueJeans said.

Users tap the space bar on their keyboard to begin talking in a Space, while others navigate around to hear, with sound coming through louder the closer people are in the customizable virtual setting. People also can go into a private Huddle for more sensitive discussions or set themselves as “do not disturb.”

BlueJeans said survey data have shown workers are eager to get back to having so-called casual “watercooler” workplace conversations.