From Oculus Rift to HoloLens, innovations in virtual reality have companies scrambling to create the first great headset on the market. While originally focused on the gaming and entertainment industry, there's no denying that virtual and augmented reality technology will directly impact the way we work and communicate as well. Some of the "new wave" include Magic Leap, which beams light into your eye so that you can barely differentiate between "augmented" and "reality". Google recently lead a half-billion dollar funding round for Magic Leap, and they are working with WETA, the special effects team behind the Lord of the Rings movie franchise, to create content. Facebook is in the game too, having acquired Oculus Rift, the kick-started VR device company. The significance of Oculus was clear to me last year when instead of playing Super Mario Brothers, I was one of the Super Mario Brothers. Google's Cardboard, firmly at the cheap and cheerful end of the range, can be bought for $20, or assembled yourself from magnets, lenses, cardboard, a rubber band, and your phone - full instructions provided. Microsoft's HoloLens will let you play Minecraft in real space and time, and have a HoloDog for a pet (no pooper scooper required!), or redesign physical objects that are directly in front of you in the physical world, all of which you can see conceptualised in this video.
Face to face remote video software, like Skype and FaceTime, has already transformed the traditional conference call. Telepresence robots are being used in the Internet, Manufacturing, Medical, and Pharmaceutical sectors, and by Sheldon Cooper, and 96% of users find them easy to use. Platforms like Flipside Workspace are allowing meetings, interviews, and conferences to occur in a virtual space akin to a multi-player, online gaming environment. Video Interviewing software platforms like Montage and Jobvite are gaining users. All of these have a logical next iteration in VR or AR.
Virtual reality is poised to bring digital communication to the next level. As Inc.com predicts, new VR headsets will allow employees and leaders "to communicate inflection, body language, and space while working remotely." Instead of multiple individuals in remote locations being tethered to monitors, teams can move, gesture, and interact in 3D space allowing for more natural, fluid communication that directly mimics a live meeting. You may not even be able to tell who is physical and who is virtual in a workspace, if Magic Leap lives up to its' promise.
VR also shows great potential for visualizing spaces in 3D. At the recent E3 gaming expo, Minecraft demonstrated the potential of VR for manipulating and controlling digital landscapes. Applying similar technology in the business world would allow teams to create and manipulate 3D recreations of physical spaces. As PC World explains, real-time workplace visualization would allow for companies to provide teaching which is experiential not just instructional and can allow teams to all see live updates to a product's space. VR is poised to change visualization the way Cloud software has revolutionized document sharing.
In the past, business have been slow to embrace new technologies. Last year, ZDNet reported that 18 percent of small businesses were still using the 12-year-old and insecure Windows XP, for example. A recent poll conducted by the Philadelphia Business Journal revealed that "sixty one percent of respondents say they do not want to be a digital leader in their industry and plan to wait and see rather than make the first digital moves in their sector."
But while businesses are slow to adopt, employees and consumers aren't - which means there are real workforce and consumer benefits for those who embrace these technologies in the early mainstream. The same poll showed that "Fifty seven percent of workers think new digital technologies will improve their working experience. Just eight percent think they will worsen it. Fifty percent believe that digital technology will improve their job prospects versus 12 percent who think it will limit them." And while it took the personal computer 9 years to reach 10% market penetration, it took the tablet PC just two and a half years - shorter than the average strategic plan.
Just as they have with "bring your own device" and working from home, organisations who want to attract, retain, motivate, and enable the workforce will need to embrace changes in advancing digital technologies as they occur. VR and AR are likely to be a significant part of the future of work, and one that will begin affecting workforce preferences within the next 5 years, if not earlier. Organisations who are forward thinking aren't betting the farm, but they are determining where and when they will respond to factors that are likely to have a significant impact on the future of work.
Edit: Fortune reports that Microsoft is offering $100,000 grants to university research teams to explore commercial uses for HoloLens. Applications may include immersive virtual conferences, analytics, and workplace communication.