They also found themselves dealing with travel restrictions due to COVID-19 and were unsure of what the future would hold.
In order to continue their quinquennial reunion while keeping everyone safe, the planning committee made the decision to host the event virtually through the VR platform Mesmerise.
Harvard alumnus Sean West, who happens to sit on the advisory board of Mesmerise, organized an event that saw 90 Harvard alumni from 28 countries come together for a digital party. The reunion also doubled as a book launch for their former professor Ramsay Gulati.
Former classmates attended the event using a Meta Quest VR headset pre-loaded with the Mesmerise app. Once there, they were greeted by Gulati who then split them into two separate groups of 45 and spent half an hour with them. From there, everyone moved into Mesmerise’s digital plaza to catch up, reminisce, and even do a little virtual networking.
To make sure no one would get VR fatigue from being in a headset too long, the reunion was scheduled for 90 minutes. Of course, everyone was encouraged to continue to meet up in VR afterward or stay connected the old-fashioned way.
According to West, VR technology offered him and his classmates the unique opportunity to reconnect “in-person” without the hassle of conventional travel. “Nobody had to miss work. Nobody got stuck because they couldn’t get a visa, and no COVID,” said West during an interview with Business Insider. West also explained how no one had to deal with jet lag or the cost of traveling, which was a big bonus!
West also talked about how this metaverse approach was more like a real-life reunion vs a Zoom call. “On a Zoom call, if you want to take people aside to talk to you one on one, it’s exclusionary, I have to create a break room and tell you to join me,” said West. “In VR we just hopped onto the plaza, you’re out of earshot of everyone else, It’s like in real life.”
Though it wasn’t perfect, the metaverse reunion still brought people together. From West’s perspective, the experience can still be a bit challenging for those using VR for the first time.
“Today, VR is a ‘sometimes’ tool,” said West. “The portability and the price of devices can’t be overstated to the importance of the shift.”
Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program class of 2017 are actually scheduling a second reunion in October, only this one will be in-person. However, West thinks the metaverse is inevitable and it’s only a matter of time until these virtual reunions are commonplace.