There are many collaborative and social opportunities in XR environments. Much like in real life, in virtual collaborative meetings, people rely on body language and other visual cues as a part of natural conversation.

In immersive virtual environments, our minds expect the same behaviors from virtual avatars that they would with physical bodies in the real world. So, when we communicate with each other, we look at body language and other visual cues to enhance that common understanding. When the virtual environment is not designed in a way that enables or enhances that understanding, things can get confusing and sometimes uncomfortable.

TL;DR Do’s and Don’ts


  • Preserve a clear view of everyone’s hands.
  • Place the UI elements below eye level and around them within easy reach.
  • Ensure anyone with a headset or in the same space can see the same thing.
  • Represent personal settings panels as translucent or blurred panels to others in the collaborative space when privacy is needed.


  • Don’t design UI elements that block eye contact or the users view of each other.
  • Don’t use static placeholder images as representations of people.
  • Don’t have different users working on the same object separately and privately.
  • Don’t keep personal settings panels invisible to others since this can result in a subconscious level of distrust.

Making the content public

Two men wearing HoloLens, collaboratively viewing a model in 3D.
Microsoft HoloLens and Autodesk Fusion 360

When multiple people are working collaboratively on a common project in virtual space, it is best to ensure that the content is public for everyone to see. The culture is different when you’re working with laptops, but in virtual environments, having someone work on content that is not visible to everyone can be disconcerting and can even result in a subconscious level of distrust.

The reason this matters so much in the virtual world is that as social creatures, we have learned to read others’ intent by body language, what they’re doing with their hands, and where they’re looking. In real life, we can see when someone is looking at their phone instead of paying attention to a conversation. If we couldn’t see their phone, and all we saw were random gestures made in the air with their hands, we would wonder what they were doing since we wouldn’t see the context of the phone.

This will especially be important to keep in mind as Mixed Reality becomes more ubiquitous within our everyday lives.


  • For remote collaboration, provide a visual cue as to who is speaking at a given time.
  • Ensure all attendees have a visual representation through video or a real-time animated avatar. Unlike Skype or phone conferences, having placeholder static images in a 3D virtual environment causes discomfort and can hinder communication.
  • To promote individual privacy while still maintaining transparency of intent for others in the collaborative space, consider representing personal settings panels to others as translucent panels or screens when privacy is needed.

Example experience to try for free

YouTube player
Rec Room is available in 2D and VR modes.

Rec Room VR

This social VR experience is cross-platform, which means you can meet up with people across all of the various hardware that support the app. This includes Playstation VR, Oculus Rift and Quest, and the Valve Index and HTC Vive with Steam. It will also work in 2D mode with iOS and Playstation 4.

I particularly like the way they solve the problem of privacy while still maintaining transparency of intent. Each person’s settings panel is a yellow, translucent panel with “touch” buttons on it, but you’re only able to see your own buttons. When others look at the panel, all they see is the yellow translucent rectangle.

Another clear sign of intent is that all users can see where someone is teleporting since the target location circle and teleportation Bezier are visible to everyone. (I’ll explain those more in a future article.) Also, additional social cues are available such as indicators of who is talking, and usernames above each person’s avatar. Spatial audio is also active on avatars so that those further away are not heard as clearly or at all depending on virtual distance from others much like in the real world.

Learn more

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I’m an Immersive Tech UX Design Professional with over 22 years of experience designing for kiosks, websites, mobile apps and desktop software for many well-known and not-so-well-known companies.

I’m not speaking on behalf of or representing any company. These are my personal thoughts, experiences and opinions.

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