How AR And VR Will Change Our Workspaces

A few use cases help us predict how immersive technology will affect people’s day-to-day work and the way they interact with the workplace
  • AR and VR will transform workspaces by providing immersive experiences.
  • Video conferences will become defunct and networking revolutionized.
  • Yet, it is unlikely that VR will replace the need for offices altogether.

If you saw a colleague in your office, walking around in circles and talking to themselves, what would you think?

Well, in a few years time, you probably won’t even notice because the immersive worlds of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) will be an intrinsic part of our working lives. VR and AR technologies have the potential to transform our workspaces and unleash a range of flexible working practices.

AR layers digital components on top of the real world, allowing you to interact with your surroundings using a combination of real world and digital information. VR takes things one step further and creates a new world, providing a fully immersive experience.

Both technologies are still in the early stages – but the pace of development is fast and the breadth of applications is breathtaking. The Guardian’s Virtual Reality Studio has created a series of stunning VR experiences that put you inside the story. You could experience what it’s like to be an autistic teenager, or a trainee forensic scientist examining the scene of a crime, for example.

Microsoft’s HoloLens headset has also been used by NASA engineers to aid the construction of its new Orion spacecraft. You could even roam the Martian surface from your armchair.

Back to work

While these applications create powerful and often emotive experiences, how will immersive tech affect your day-to-day work?

Imagine this scenario. You get to your workplace, sit down at a free desk and log in to your AR headset. The entire office appears before you, but now it’s filled with hovering icons of the apps and bookmarks you use everyday. You tap one and a browser window opens. Your Twitter feed is streaming to your left and to your right is the last document you were working on.

You tap another app, place it on the floor and a full-scale model of your latest product appears. You look around at your coworkers. You tap on one individual and a brief synopsis of their work and expertise appears.

Let’s take things one step further. Instead of physically going to a workplace, you go to your home office and put on your VR headset. Now, a virtual workspace appears before your eyes, populated by life-like avatars of your colleagues and coworkers.

You don’t work from home anymore. Instead, you hook up to the virtual office.

While such scenarios won’t be widespread in the next few years, adoption and acceptance of immersive technologies has reached a tipping point.

A recent report reveals half of businesses not using AR/VR will adopt these technologies in the next three years. A further 38% predict immersive tech will become mainstream in their organisations in the next three to five years. Of those already using AR/VR, 82% of companies claim the benefits are meeting or exceeding their expectations.

There’s still a long way to go before we sit down at our desks and pop on an AR/VR headset – and a poor user experience is the crux of the issue.

The headset market is also in disarray with new offerings entering the market regularly. This makes it difficult to create great user experiences when hardware disappears faster than you can say “Google Glass”.

This hasn’t perturbed the world’s tech giants from investing in immersive reality hardware, however. Scheduled for release in 2020, Apple’s much-anticipated AR headset is rumoured to have VR capabilities.

Facebook-owned Oculus also believes the enhanced functionality and reasonable price tag of its latest Quest headset could help Mark Zuckerberg realise his loft ambition to get one billion people using VR.

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So, how will AR/VR break into the office environment? A number of interesting use cases are emerging, and some have already entered the world of work:

Virtual Video Conferencing

One of the obvious application areas for AR/VR tech is in the conference room, where you sit in an augmented or virtual meeting room with projections of your colleagues from all over the world.

In this space, you’re not constrained by two dimensions. Instead, you can pull up 3D CAD models of your latest product. Such technologies are already under development – the InsiteVr Meeting tool allows engineering, architecture and construction models to be shared in a VR space, for example.

What’s more, you can all write on a virtual whiteboard to share ideas, brainstorm and then cut and paste anything useful on the board to use later. Shared whiteboards are already appearing in our offices with offerings from both Microsoft and Cisco. Integrating this technology with the AR/VR space could further enhance the user experience.

Enhanced education and training opportunities

VR and AR are already making significant inroads to help industries, including the healthcare sector, create safe and effective education and training programs.

While it may be some time before they are commonplace in enterprise training schemes, companies including UPS and Wal-Mart have already used VR training to help employees learn the necessary job skills. Verizon technicians, for example, train with VR headsets where they virtually install fibre optic cables in complex environments.

Onboarding coworkers and neat networking

AR headsets can help flexible workspace operators onboard coworkers. Design and digital marketing agency Beam, for example, reportedly uses an AR-based onboarding program to help new staff members settle in. The headsets rely information such as who sits where, their job role, and so on.

You can even “click” on a person in the office and a short video about them will play where the targeted employee talks about what they do and how they can help a newbie.

It’s easy to see how this concept could be extended to coworking spaces or networking events where you want to start a conversation with the right people.

Bye bye offices?

AR and VR are unknown quantities. Although we can safely predict that they will have an impact on the world of work, it seems unlikely that we’ll wake up in a dystopian future where the world’s offices are replaced by legions of virtual workers.

For as long as technology has existed, humans use it to enhance their real-life experiences, not completely replace them.

As immersive tech transcends physical borders and technologies, we may all be walking around in circles talking to ourselves very soon. Whatever the outcome, AR and VR will certainly make the world of work more interesting, interactive and accessible.