Will Virtual Reality Help in the Digital Workplace?
Back in 2014 when Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift, he described some potential future uses for the tool:
“After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home. … By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.”
Aside from the Oculus brand, there’s a whole range of VR headsets currently on, or that will soon reach the mass market. Ranging from Microsoft’s high end Hololens to a range of cheap and cheerful Google Cardboard headsets which allow users to put their smartphones in and experience a virtual world all for under $20.
Improvements in technology have made the experience of VR, which has existed in some form since the 1950s, less shaky, more realistic and less likely to induce the nausea often associated with exploring computer-graphic worlds. Anyone who has tried modern VR agree it is an absorbing and engaging experience yet there seems to be something missing. Aside from gaming and a couple of other relatively niche activities, can VR actually offer anything particularly useful for everyone, or will it turn out like 3D TV, cool and impressive, but unnecessary?
A common critique of VR is that it will never go mainstream. Aside from a couple of engaging documentaries at film and tech fairs/exhibitions, most of the talk around VR seems to be centered on its potential use in video games.
This criticism is a not very well thought out.
VR could find its way, for instance, in many ways, into the workplace. Some of these are in fact already in use while others are in the pipeline and some workers can expect them to become part of their daily experience sooner, rather than later.
Flight simulators have been around for decades, and are becoming even more sophisticated, with improvement in technological know-how, as a way of putting rookie pilots through their paces. Improved VR, however, is potentially a great way of simulating all sorts of workplace training experiences, from public speaking to guiding engineers through the process of fixing broken sophisticated machinery to carrying out surgery.
One of the most exciting ways VR could be used is in R&D especially as it pertains to architecture, urban design, automobiles and a lot more. Virtual reality will allow designers to iterate and view in real time hundreds of variations on a product, discover weaknesses and faults early on and save money.
Virtual reality promises the possibility that colleagues will no longer have to spend time, money and energy on long commutes when collaborating on projects. VR will make it feel like you are really working together, enabling you to join and participate in meetings in a far more lifelike way than via VoIP.
Retail stores will be able to optimize floor and shelf design of supermarkets and other kinds of environments. By experimenting with different ways of placing products around the store, and viewing the results in real time, floor planners will get a much better idea of how to design and lay out their stores. Conferences, sport events and plenty of other customer-side experiences could benefit from this approach as well.
VR has great potential to help people overcome traumatic experiences and phobias by immersing them in a “safe” and controllable environment with help from a professional, before facing their fears.
Even though Virtual Reality has the potential of impacting how we will work in future, any claims that it will “change everything” still need to be taken with a large pinch of salt as a lot still needs to be done.