Remote employees, digital nomads, telecommuters, location-independent professionals - the virtual work world is often framed as an alternate reality to that of physical office dwellers who commute to a central company location to work. But since most of us are well past the Office Space-era of beige cubicles and coveted staplers, isn’t the term “virtual work” outdated?
What’s often considered “virtual” is a direct opposite of what’s physically around us. But what if the idea of virtual as an alternate to the norm no longer applies? With millions of people experiencing their physical worlds in a whole new way through Pokemon Go, we might just be undergoing a cultural shift in the mindset of virtual vs. reality.
Indeed, we might even go as far to say that businesses who fail to recognize this are risking being left behind by their industries and employees alike.
How Does Pokemon Play Into Your Workday?
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies are quickly changing the game for both professional and personal connectivity. Take Pokemon Go. More than just a revival of 90s nostalgia, the mass hysteria surrounding the AR app has been deemed by Intel as a “watershed moment” for the mainstream adoption of the technology.
Need to explain the concept of virtual or augmented realities to a less technically literate person? All you have to say now are those two magic words—Pokemon Go—and that my friend, is a solid indicator of the early-to-late majority phase (read: regular folks) coming due in the technology adoption lifecycle.
Even your dog knows what a Pokemon is. [Source]
In fact, at this year’s F8 conference in March, Mark Zuckerberg put a timeline of 5 to 10 years on the full integration of a social virtual reality into Facebook (thanks to their dedicated Social VR team). Apple’s CEO Tim Cook recently predicted that augmented reality is going to be “huge” and that AR is the next big investment at the company. And this is just for consumers.
According to a recent study from Dell and Intel, a full half of all employees, and 3 in 5 millennials feel that technology will make face-to-face conversation a non-essential part of the workplace. Not only that, the 4,000-person study also found that 66 percent of global workers want to use AR/VR in their professional lives, and nearly 1 in 2 believe that these technologies will make them more productive at their jobs.
Add that to the fact that already two years ago now, a Forbes article indicated that most companies already have the bandwidth and technological capabilities to support a virtual reality workplace.
So what’s stopping us from rethinking virtual work as, well, just plain work?
The Reality of Virtual In The Workplace
Virtual reality opens up new spaces for people to interact across time and distance. Video conferencing made a huge difference in remote communication, and VR/AR technologies are expanding our options even further.
Once you are able to occupy a “physical” presence at a negotiation meeting in New York, despite being en route to your beach cottage in Sonoma, everything from voice to body language will be visible. Add in a few virtual screens showing a presentation, data charts and the project Trello board, and everyone involved will have the chance to be fully immersed in that moment.
Trello is a distributed company, with about 60% of our employees working remotely, so we operate in virtual spaces all the time. But we’re quickly becoming less of an anomaly. Research from Global Workplace Analytics is finding that a move to virtual work spaces is happening, like, right now:
- Half of the U.S. workforce now holds a job that could be done at least partially remote.
- 80-90% of U.S. workers say they’d like to work remotely at least part of the time.
- Employees are becoming mobile, with Fortune 1000 employees in particular not at their desk 50-60% of the time.
But don’t get too excited. Just 2.8% of U.S. employees are currently working from home at least part-time. And so we get back to our original question: Does the rise in popularity of AR/VR in popular culture mean that more of us will soon have a better chance of working in our slippers?
Cases of Companies Moving Virtual
Other than adding a new perk to the company gameroom, AR and VR can help businesses with a wide range of new processes:
- Understanding Big Data by allowing for the presentation of data points and models through shapes and filters that flat screens can’t offer.
- Making quick decisions in the Stock Market by aggregating all key info without the need for multiple, large screens.
- Showing homeowners and potential buyers home designs and layouts.
- Helping medical professionals plan out surgeries and other procedures, or even performing exams remotely.
As Recode points out, the impact of these technologies in the business world is not just about a new technology, it’s about driving new ways of “thinking, creating, and demonstrating ideas.” They see industries like healthcare, design, shipping, manufacturing, military and services having serious near-term benefits from shifting to virtual and augmented environments.
In general, there are some interesting ways that AR and VR can make employees more productive: Collaboration is enhanced when things like physical space are no longer an issue for meetings or conferences. And speaking of difference spaces, a headset that displays all your spreadsheets and files is more easily accessed on-the-go than, say, bringing your laptop to the beach.
With augmented reality, you can easily bring digital elements to the physical workplace: think Trello cards attached to the bathroom mirror so you don’t forget to hurry up for that early-morning conference call! And why not take your pomodoro break in a virtual relaxation room that gets you truly away from the hubbub of your crazy day? Yes, please!
How To Take Your Workplace Virtual
Tech Republic has some suggestions for companies considering how to implement AR/VR technology into their workplace that suggest, from a total outlook, to not let the hype influence your decision about what to immerse and when.
Think about common tasks and behaviors in your office and how they might be improved by a virtual solution: hands-on training could be enhanced with a virtual experience, product assembly could be refined with a view through smart glasses, or sales presentations could be felt in full-force within a virtual boardroom.
When it comes to process, they suggest defining company ROI objectives and using data to measure and improve results. And if you don’t have internal support to make a good, intuitive UX, recruit the developers you need.
Virtual Work: Plan For When
Before half of your office takes off early to catch that elusive Charizard, it’s probably a good idea to adjust your thinking from wondering if AR and VR technology is going to move into your daily work life, to planning for when it will. And when it does, it is likely going to have a big impact on how—and where—you work on a regular basis.
So we’re imagining remote work time somewhere warm and tropical. There’s a giant Trello screen we can bring up at a moment’s notice via AR or VR headset and move around with our hands. With it, we can interact with our team and organize that board together over time zones and across borders. What kind of virtual work reality are you imagining?