Just a while ago, we wrote an article about it Lark, a collaborative platform with a multitude of tools for sharing documents with your team and editing them in real time, along with powerful messenger chat features, crystal clear voice calls and much more.
As appropriate as the platform was, we still lacked the physical connection we took for granted when working in a shared space. Our office has been closed for more than a year and I personally miss the opportunity to just walk up to a colleague and share ideas right away.
Then we came across a website called Gather.town (Gather) which allowed us to do just that, and more.
Introducing a touch of realism
Gather’s concept is simple. It works like virtual space to gather friends, colleagues and family and socialize with video or voice calls. But what makes Gather unique is its avatar and space feature that allows users meet virtually and talk, unlike any other collaborative platform we’ve tried in the past.
Its free version can accommodate up to 25 users online in space and with different prices, can accommodate over 100 users.
“But Rikco, what’s the use of Gather when you can just start a video call and talk to each other without hassle?” said the reader who is just reading this.
In times like these, the ability to talk to someone who is not just a floating head but a moving avatar almost mimics face-to-face conversations. And for me, it’s a comforting feeling after being absent from others during a pandemic. I could even let Gather work in the background, simulating a lively office space environment.
Some of us in the company have managed to find avatars that look similar to what we look like in real life, which gave an extra touch of reality to the whole experience. You cannot adjust from scratch at this time, but you can change the color scheme of the selected avatar.
A playground for creativity
Gather offers 70 pre-set spaces with a variety of themes from your everyday office to a dungeon escape room, and even an otherworldly space called Moonpond. This makes installation easier, and you can further decorate the selected space to your liking.
If you still have your vision, you can start with an empty space and make it as detailed as you want. To add, you have the option of allowing co-workers to decorate the space as they see fit.
Our boss is flexible with her art license when creating our office from a pre-installed model in Mapmaker, which is what you would primarily use to make walls, floors, tile and more. Different types of tiles change the way an avatar communicates with them, such as:
- Impermeable tile (for items like tables, fireplaces, etc., so that avatars would not pass through them)
- Private spaces (for different rooms or stations, so the conversation within those spaces contains and is not taken over by everyone)
- Spotlight tiles (as opposed to private spaces, where you will be broadcast to everyone, no matter where they are located)
She changed the size of the rooms, replaced the furniture, and later added outdoor space. When she revealed it to us the next day, she allowed us to decorate the space at will with the Build and Erase function. What we finally got to:
- Private desks for everyone in the company, where colleagues are free to enter your space for discussion as in real life,
- Meeting room with interactive whiteboards so teams can work together in real time,
- Sakura outdoor garden with liquid fountain (yes, you can hear it),
- Dining room where we have weekly lunches together on Friday (pictured).
Although inspired by our real-life office, we would say we took a lot of creative liberties and exaggerated in some of its features. (Hey, this is the only way to have a dream office without worrying about excessive costs, okay?)
There is quite a selection of items you can place, and due to a few limitations in the items we found we didn’t complain much. If you don’t like the items available, you can easily upload your pictures, like what our internet betman fanatic did.
Interactivity is not limited to avatars; they can communicate with certain objects. Speakers, fountains and fire pits have their own ambient sounds that give life to the 2D space.
Meanwhile, TVs and turntables can connect to YouTube videos that play in the background when you’re around, once you interact with them.
And since Jack all the work, and not even the game, isn’t a boring boy, Gather made sure to add some fun items. These include preset games (One Night Werewolf, Codenames, Draw Battle, etc.) that you can place on tables, an arcade machine where you can put Tetris, a generic game box that you can connect to any other online game, Sudoku, and even and poker.
Short but sweet virtual time
Although some of us diligently used Gather for a week and enjoyed the virtual interaction he provided, not everyone could be online all day, every day like in a real office.
First, both browser and app versions can tax older / less powerful computers, and keeping Gather open during the day could overheat your computer.
Personally, my curious person was constantly glued to the page, lurking to see what my colleagues were doing (which was not productive at all, oops). You would need better self-control than me if you didn’t bother me easily.
Another disadvantage of Gather as a tool for collaboration in the workplace is that it requires users to adopt a person who is always online. You can leave Gather open while you go to the bathroom or you are busy arranging with a client, but without notice, your colleagues can simply assume that you are actually at your computer and take a walk to talk, just to talk to yourself.
While in real life they will be able to see clearly whether you are present at your table or you are open to conversation. Perhaps a way to get around the awkward encounters at Gather would be to let your colleagues know that they are pinging you first that they would like to talk before they cross over.
In addition, we continue to use and turn Gather on and off as a space to spice up team meetings, for our shared reading rooms, weekly lunches and celebrations.
It can’t completely replace existing workplace collaboration tools, such as Teams, Lark, or Slack, because it lacks proper document-sharing, search, and detailed chat messaging features, to name a few.
But at a time when video calls need to make up for the lack of office interaction, Gather is a welcome (and more fun) improvement on our capabilities.
Credit for all images unless otherwise noted: Vulcan Post