You only have to take a look at virtual office history to realize that we’ve come a long way since its humble beginnings stretching all the way back to the 1960s when the first serviced office company was created.
Back then, workplaces were simple bricks and mortar buildings designed as permanent spaces in which to work and hold meetings. Today, the office is a different beast altogether: it is driven by technology that is shaping the future of work.
Nowadays, as I learned at a recent Technology and Trends conference, a workspaces’ physical design is informed, first and foremost, by technology.
This is particularly true when it comes to videoconferencing technology, which is proving more popular than ever as workforces become more disparate and flexible.
Tech like sound masking, localized microphones and all the features associated with smart buildings are changing the landscape of workspaces – making them more responsive, reactive, attuned to occupants’ behaviours.
Two of the latest and most talked about tech trends to affect the workplace are virtual reality and augmented reality.
Before we explore what VR and augmented reality in the workplace might look like, let’s define each term and establish how they’re different.
When you consider what the words ‘virtual’ and ‘reality’ mean in isolation, you’ll quickly realize that together, they equate to something along the lines of ‘near-reality’.
So, according to the Virtual Reality Society, “VR presents us with a version of reality that isn’t really there, but from your perspective it would be perceived as real.”
In technical terms, VR is “a term used to describe a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment which can be explored and interacted with by a person.”
Although they’re part of the same family so to speak, augmented reality differs from VR in the sense that it adds to the world you see in front of you, it doesn’t replace it.
An example of AR in a popular culture context is Pokemon Go, where users see characters navigating their immediate surroundings through their smartphone.
5 ways AR and VR will impact the workplace
Now let’s take a look at some of the ways in which this technology is transforming the workplace and influencing the future of work.
1. Improved communications
Both AR and VR have the potential to solve problems many businesses with employees who work remotely face around physical presence – or the lack of it. Although email, messaging apps and tools like Skype work fine (most of the time), nothing beats the impact of a face-to-face meeting.
In the not so distant future, widespread access to virtual reality technology will enable remote workers and clients to have a physical presence in meetings and collaboration sessions.
This immersive alternative to (or perhaps version of) videoconferencing has the potential to enhance employee engagement and wellbeing, and thus have a significant impact on businesses bottom lines.
Some companies are already using mixed-reality rooms to conduct meetings and others are providing their teams with virtual reality headsets that ‘transport’ them to the office.
According to Dell & Intel Future Workforce Study Global Report: “66% of global employees would be willing to use AR/ VR products in their professional life; most as a training tool, and 62% of global employees agree that their job could be made easier with the assistance of artificial intelligence.”
2. Better training techniques
VR and AR’s ability to place people in immersive experiences makes it a very effective tech tool for training. VR enables users to manipulate their environment and even perform activities without having to visit the workplace itself.
Although the technology is a large investment, training via VR can result in huge cost savings for a business down the line, with money saved on in-person training and repairs resulting from damage to (heavy) equipment.
Some of the different brands using VR in this way include NASA, Walmart, NFL and the Armed Forces, as well as smaller companies and organizations around the world.
3. Attracting the right talent & HR
Companies are also embracing AR and VR when it comes to Human Resources in order to attract and retain the best talent, particularly in competitive marketplaces.
For instance, new technologies allow candidates to ‘virtually shadow’ existing employees to get a real feel for what their position or role would be like.
Similarly, VR has the potential to be used in the interviewing process itself: for example, a sales candidate could be placed in an immersive situation to demonstrate how they would deal with a challenging customer.
4. Virtual tours
As touched upon above, VR in particular can enable candidates, or clients for that matter, to visit a business’ workplace without having to set foot out of their own home. Again, this is very valuable for companies recruiting for remote work positions.
A virtual tour can be a great tool for attracting talent, enabling people to get an insight into the company’s culture as well as the role itself.
Augmented reality is being used to integrate with buildings themselves. For instance, an AR tour of an office might use indoor mapping technology to guide visitors to the exact location they are looking for, such as a specific conference room or executive suite.
5. Organizing data better
In a data-driven world and with access to so much of it, being organized and on top of your data is crucial and can have a significant impact on ROI.
Nowadays, some businesses are choosing to invest in a mixed-reality room. This is a space in which employees can manipulate data using a touch screen interface.
Some are using smaller VR office headsets to populate charts and images and to manipulate data. Integrating AR and VR technology with data in this way can improve collaboration and concentration and eliminate wasted time. It’s also better for the environment!
While AR and virtual reality in the workplace is still in its infancy, we’re beginning to see it enter the mainstream and impact significantly on the future of work. These new technologies look set to transform the workplace by making it more efficient, personalized and in some ways, more collaborative.