How VR Will Change the Way We Work
We've been writing a lot about virtual reality lately, and for a good reason. It's looking like VR might be the next seismic shift in how we experience computing. Just like the Internet changed the way we interact with machines and information, VR could take us to another level of immersion. And if you think that it's just for gaming (which, to be fair, is currently its primary strength), you've got another think coming.
The evolution of just about every major technology we've seen in the last few decades has started with entertainment and then made its way to productivity. Think about how high-end game engines pushed CPUs and graphics cards to be more powerful. Developers who start out making games in VR are going to want to use that tech for other things as well.
The most unlikely customer for these new virtual worlds is your boss. The modern workplace has changed drastically in the last three generations, and it's only going to get weirder. It's highly possible that VR integration will drastically alter the way you do your job. Check out the slideshow for some of the ways that could happen.
Audio conference calls are, to be frank, a nightmare. It's hard to tell when you're supposed to be talking, and if there are a bunch of people on the line, it all runs together into a noisy mess. Some companies are pushing video as a solution to this, but it's highly possible that VR might be an even better way to go.
Individual avatars speaking in a virtual "conference room," able to bring up documents to illustrate what they're talking about in real time, would mitigate many of the annoyances that teleconferencing brings to the table. Several companies are already working on ways to integrate virtual meeting rooms with services like Slack.
If you code, you always need more monitor space. Having two or three screens is great and all, but what if your computer workspace was a 360-degree environment? Some ergonomic designers are proposing a major transformation in the way people create their workspace by breaking free of the "screen" model and transforming entire virtual spaces into a production environment.
This is a seismic shift in the way people process and create data and, if it happens, would be a really big deal. It's still pretty early, so interface designers don't have any real idea what the most efficient virtual workplace will be, but we'd expect some pretty cool experiments in this area soon.
There's nothing more boring than sitting through the federally mandated diversity- and sensitivity-training videos that your human resources department makes you watch every time somebody screws up. Many companies are already investigating the ability of virtual reality scenarios to make those messages more effective and memorable.
Recently, the NFL partnered with Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab to develop a virtual reality tool to help players and staff experience sexism and racism. The simulations are designed to transplant people into unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations, such as one where a white user is put into the body of a black woman dealing with racial abuse. The power of VR to increase empathy is still being studied, but it will definitely have a place in the workplace of the future.
The design world is one that stands to immediately benefit from the adoption of VR in the workplace. People already use 3D modeling to create prototypes of new products, but to interact with them in the real world they need to be manufactured, either by a 3D printer or by a company that specializes in short-run manufacturing. That can be expensive and time-consuming, especially if you're making small, incremental changes.
But imagine being able to prototype and test your creations in an entirely virtual space? And collaborate with other designers -- and even clients -- around the world? VR could make that possible. We've already seen early, primitive creative tools like Tilt Brush produce remarkable results, so think about what dedicated companies like Adobe or Autodesk could do in the field.
We're already seeing a little bit of this in real estate, but the potential for demoing products using virtual reality is incredible. Being able to take a simulated walkthrough of a property is one thing, but imagine extending that to hotel rooms, theater seats or anything else that you can purchase remotely? Virtual reality will give consumers more information than ever before, and smart businesses should be capitalizing on it as soon as they can.
If you're in sales, the days of driving from client to client may soon be at an end. Why should you waste that time when you can set up an appointment in virtual space and show off your competitive advantages in glorious simulated 3D? That cuts costs and improves margins, which is the name of the game.
Variable Working Hours
It's already becoming obvious that the 9-5 workday is a relic of the past. With more and more businesses becoming truly global operations, office hours have to stretch in both directions. Making a workplace virtual mitigates many of the issues people have with this transition. Instead of putting on a suit and taking a redeye flight to Tokyo for a meeting, it'll now be possible to meet up in a VR space.
Sure, teleconferencing has already pushed many companies in this direction, but the physicality of VR space with human avatars brings back some of the connectivity that's lost from looking at a screen. This kind of cloud-based workspace, where people can log in and out depending on whether they're needed or not, is likely to replace sitting at a desk waiting for your boss to give you orders.
The End of Commuting
As virtual spaces eliminate the need for real ones, expect working from home to become even more prevalent than it already is. Many companies already recognize the benefits that off-site employees offer, from satisfaction to reduced facilities costs. As virtual reality systems get more advanced and reliable, it's highly possible that there won't be any need to ever go into an office.
From an infrastructure standpoint, this is a big win for just about everybody. Less traffic on the roads during rush hour means fewer accidents, less frustration, more time for people to spend with their families and less air pollution. Sure, you're spending more of your day jacked into the Matrix, but that's a compromise most people would be willing to make.