Video chat BlueJeans aims to bring virtual watercooler talk to remote workers

FILE PHOTO: A Verizon store in Superior, Colorado, U.S., July 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/File Photo

(Reuters) - 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 on Monday that 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 from the ground-up 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 can tap the space bar on their keyboard to begin talking in a Space, while others can 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."

Users may end up dismissing the features as gimmicky or too cumbersome to deal with all day. But BlueJeans said survey data have shown workers are eager to get back to having so-called casual "watercooler" workplace conversations.

The hope is that visual and audio cues in Spaces will make people feel more connected in online worksites.

"We’re one step closer to creating a truly unified digital workplace experience," Verizon Business Chief Executive Tami Erwin said in a statement.

(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

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