We don’t have to cast our minds too far back into the past to recall the days when virtual reality seemed like a dream of the distant future (with little link to real-world technology of the time). Sci-Fi enthusiasts fantasized endlessly about the day we’d all be able to experience worlds generated by computers. The question wasn’t if VR would be possible, but when.
By now, though, the success of devices like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift has made VR ever more appealing to the general public. And while it’s yet to achieve true mainstream viability, it’s hardly inconceivable that the next decade will change that: Meta has indicated an intention to continue vast investment in it, after all.
So could the mass adoption of VR hardware cause a shift in the way we work? Is a fusion of VR/AR and working life a certainty of the coming years, or merely the far-fetched daydream of gadget obsessives? Below, we’ll dig into how virtual and augmented reality tech could transform our working lives.
The experience of suffering through a mind-numbing presentation at work will be an unfortunate familiarity to most. VR technology could put an end to the boredom, revolutionizing training both in the workplace and beyond. Companies like VRdirect have already capitalized on how useful VR and AR could be in training and education. Here are some of our favorite examples:
As the technology develops and employers become more open to its uses, it’s likely that training will become one of the key areas in which VR will prove indispensable. In addition to providing boredom-busting immersion, VR and mixed-reality training is highly cost-effective. With less of a burden placed on human resources to onboard staff, the initial spend on hardware could quickly pay for itself.
We’ve already seen a huge shift in the way management approaches recruitment thanks to modern technology. Nowadays, a candidate needn’t deal with the hassle of donning formal attire, nervously approaching an unfamiliar office block, or preparing for that all-important first handshake. Remote interviews via video link largely take those obstacles away.
However, there are certain aspects of the traditional in-person interview that are lost in translation when performed virtually. Body language and gestures are confined to the dimensions of a display screen. Another key aspect of an interview process can be determining how well each candidate maintains their composure under pressure. Remote interviews relieve a lot of this pressure, leaving hiring managers in the dark about how well their potential employees might deal with stressful situations.
VR offers an opportunity to bridge this gap. As noted, companies like Meta are already betting heavily on VR, and part of that is about providing virtual spaces for socializing (though it’s likely that virtual settings will also be used for interviews soon enough). Mark Zuckerberg’s introduction of the Metaverse shows big tech’s confidence that using virtual spaces will soon become a huge part of our lives.
The implications of this are far-reaching considering the existing trend towards decoupling employees from employer locations. Consider the relatively-recent arrival of the employer of record (EOR) service, an HR solution intended to neatly overcome the logistical barriers that have traditionally discouraged companies from hiring full-time overseas employees. COVID-19 made remote working standard practice, and this is logically the next step.
EOR (employer of record) companies can already function well because stable internet access has become the bedrock of the global economy, yet the lack of in-person contact inevitably takes a toll, and this discourages some stubborn business owners from trying new things. Imagine how advanced VR tech (which is already used for interview practice by companies such as VirtualSpeech) could enhance long-distance interviews and collaborative processes, making it easier for those holdouts to let go of the old ways, and ushering in a new age where hiring global talent is the new norm.
Current VR technology lacks the sophistication to deal with facial expressions or subtle gestures, but technology keeps marching forward. And since today’s standard VR hardware has established a strong foundation (consisting of high refresh rates, intuitive user interfaces, excellent visual clarity, and even wireless connectivity), we’re likely not far off a leap forward in convenience and accessibility.
Ever wished you could ‘zap’ a piece of furniture into your home before buying it, just to see how it might look? IKEA’s AR app scratches this itch, removing the guesswork for shoppers by allowing them to virtually place cataloged chairs, tables or sofas into their spaces. Not only is this better for the shoppers, but it also helps businesses sell their products. For example, car manufacturers are already testing using VR technology for virtual test drives.
QR codes provide another great example of how AR can be applied to the business world. Want to save valuable printing space on your packaging or create an enigmatic marketing campaign? AR can help. The advantage of mixed reality over VR is that the hardware required to run these experiences is already in our hands — the smartphone is ubiquitous; a tool that many of us deem essential to modern life.
While VR might still be a novel (and unfamiliar) experience for most, AR has proven itself popular among consumers, with apps like Pokemon Go still topping the charts. While AR may not be able to match the immersive experience provided by a VR headset, this drawback is offset by the fact that, for the majority, AR requires no additional expenditure.
While the applications and advantages are wide and varied, VR and AR technology still has its naysayers. Perhaps this is borne from an ingrained luddism — recent history has taught us that managers are often prone to following the status quo with an unrelenting sense of loyalty. This is true also for employees, though. Before the pandemic-induced cultural shift we alluded to earlier, there was an overarching belief that working from home was a privilege reserved for a certain class of workers. It was the exclusive realm of high-flying software developers, keyboard-tapping novelists and entrepreneurial business owners.
The events of 2020 did away with these notions, bringing liberation for the average office worker. Managers’ hands the world over were forced, and business leaders were faced with the fact that their assumptions had been all wrong: remote working was, in fact, a viable option. Staggeringly, without the technology of the present day, the working world may just have ground to a halt. Luckily (and perhaps completely by accident), we were prepared to weather the storm of a pandemic.
The abrupt switch to a remote-working model was facilitated by technology that many of us now take for granted. High speed Wi-Fi, laptops and smartphones: these things are now considered normal (or even essential) throughout the developed world. It’s head-spinning to think that merely 20 years ago technology on this level was either reserved for the wealthy or completely inaccessible to consumers. VR and AR could well be on the same path.
However, despite the potential of virtual reality, there’s one slight roadblock: even with the leaps that surely await us in the coming years, it’s hard to envision the hardware itself living up the sci-fi hype even decades down the line. Sure, we can look around virtual worlds. We can even move around in them (albeit rather awkwardly), but we’re light years away from achieving Tron-like or Matrix-esque simulations with true immersion and physical feedback.
And since the public perception of ‘virtual reality’ is inextricably linked to these fictional depictions, it’s easy to understand why the public isn’t all that excited about VR yet. This is evidenced in VR’s seeming inability to break into a mainstream market. If the endgame of VR technology is to be considered essential, there’s clearly still some way to go. Will it happen? One day, presumably. But when? We have no way of knowing.
When VR finally does find its feet, it’s likely to change the world of work forever. In light of the global acceptance of hybrid working spurred on by the events of 2020, it’s hard to imagine that virtual reality won’t make significant corporate inroads in the near future. Whatever happens, though, the next few years are sure to be exciting.