Awesomeness in the workplace: VR is coming to businessJJ Stewart
Yes, we’ve all seen it in movies. We have imagined what it would be like to interact with a virtual world. Some of us have even donned the often heavy and cumbersome virtual reality headgear and other accoutrement -and been left unimpressed. For the past 20 years, most have agreed that virtual reality is nothing more than a novelty, and not a viable consumer technology. In the last 3 years however, we have seen a dramatic swing in public opinion and technology advances that are starting to question the classic stance on virtual reality. With advances in the industry by Microsoft, Google, and Oculus Rift, (lamentably, now a Facebook company) the consumer video game world stands at the edge of a very exciting diving board; waiting to be told that they can jump in. Virtual reality is coming.
Since it is now approaching the tangible world of science fact from the fanciful world of science fiction, it seems appropriate to examine what other industries may do with an affordable, comfortable head mounted display hitting the market within the next two years. One thing is for sure, the applications are certainly not limited to the entertainment industry, although that is where they will be developed.
After reading on the status of some of the latest versions of VR and augmented reality projects, the first thing that sprang to my mind was this: “Will it affect me?”. While I played some video games in my younger years, I don’t by any means consider myself a “gamer”. Additionally, while I am very interested in technological advances, I don’t rush out to get the latest and greatest of anything. I’m actually a slow adopter. Most of my colleagues laugh at my archaic usage of older technologies and methods regardless of modern advances. Despite my own predispositions, I can’t help thinking that business has a lot to gain from this latest boon and its almost magical implications. Here are three short examples of ways that I think the workplace will change when this tech hits the average consumer.
Expensive multi-monitor workstations are going bye-bye.
As a developer by day, I enjoy two very high resolution screens on my desk, set 20 inches from my eyes with tons of information available to me at a glance. I have the following programs open all of the time: instant message, mail, multiple web browsing sessions, and my development environment. These displays amount to $1500 investment and are pretty much required in my industry just to be productive. I won’t cite the many studies performed on productivity and computer desktop space, but it makes a profound difference. Amidst this, as an average desk-dude, I have two issues. Firstly, I find myself needing even more space at times. I need to see notifications pop up and compare two documents side by side, or copy and paste from one location to another, and I’m always re-arranging windows and desktops to accommodate the task at hand. Secondly, Computer Vision Syndrome. When sitting at a desk all day, even with everything ergonomically at optimal distances, I suffer the consequences of a fixed focal length for most of the day. My neck and shoulders slowly take on a neanderthal hunch. My entire body begins to feel the effect of sitting still, staring into a screen.
With a head mounted display, these issues can be addressed. I can have as much or far more desktop space than I use today at a cost FAR cheaper than what I had to spend in order to accomplish my current set up. I merely need to turn my head, look left and right, up or down to continue to use virtual desktop space. The vision and ergonomic issues can also be helped greatly, assuming that the headgear is light and comfortable. Focal length issues go away since I can adjust for a much more natural distance. Suddenly, there is no reason that I can’t be just as efficient while reclining or changing positions, sitting, standing or anything else that I can think of. The issues of fixed body position go away. I may be wearing a headset, but I’ll be more free than I’ve ever been.
The cubicle gets more tolerable
High capacity workplaces and call centers are often miserable places to work. The size of a workspace for an individual worker continues to shrink as square footage premiums increase. Already, call center workers don a headset with noise-cancelling headphones and microphone and sit at workstations with typical dual displays. The environment is not for the claustrophobic. People begin to feel oppressive overtones and the average worker doesn’t last long. Some centers are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is a difficult workspace.
What can VR do for these people? The virtual workspace. There is no reason that an employee cannot come in to work, go to their small cubicle, put on a virtual headset and sit in their comfy chair. This is pretty much what they do today. The difference is that they then enter their office – virtually. In the virtual world, one worker may have a 20×30 office with plenty of decorations, a huge wall of windows overlooking the sea. Another may office on a mountaintop, with real-time video feeds to make the environment more immersive. Pictures of friends and family cover all of the walls of another worker’s space. The poor graveyard shift worker suddenly gets to enjoy virtual daylight as he works in a virtual corner office in Sydney while sitting in a 6×6 cube in Atlanta. If the brain can successfully be fooled, the psychology of the workplace will change dramatically.
Design will rock
This point almost doesn’t need to be said. We live in a world of three dimensional things. These need to be designed and built. What better than to design them in 3D? Of course, the industry already does this. It is expensive and rare, but designers are already reaping the benefits of the ability to see real-time how a new concept can be realized well before a physical model ever gets built. Product designers are able to iterate through prototypes with very realistic testing prior to a concept-run. The game designers will design game elements from within the game. There is no question that the design world is changing and will continue to adopt this technology.
What can I say? I certainly cannot predict how soon it is going to happen, but I do think it is sooner than most people expect. We will see pilot programs rolling out in business very soon. We will see more and more people wearing “things” around town. The way that we interact with machines is changing, and it could be very good. I, for one actually welcome the change. As an 11th hour adopter of most technologies I don’t intend to be late on this one. I am anxiously waiting for a the right consumer virtual/augmented reality headset to hit the market. When it does, I will be working toward changing the way I work, and the programs that I write to make life better for my close friend, White-Collar Joe.
Don’t believe me, watch this video for Microsoft’s HoloLens.
We’re there, dude.