EF Staff

May 19, 2016

Picture this.

John wakes up to his alarm clock and gets ready for work. He grabs his briefcase and is out the door. His office is located in a building that is something of an architectural marvel. Interior walls made of classic azure marble. The floors in the common areas are made of granite, and in the private office areas are composed of a finely ground beach sand. Yes, beach sand. Tranquil music softly circulates throughout the building.

When John steps off the elevator onto the 85th floor, he is immediately greeted by his secretary. His secretary informs him that a meeting has been rescheduled and is starting in fifteen minutes. Twenty-six team members from around the world will be congregating in the conference room, sitting around a bonfire, sharing and bouncing ideas off one another.

There’s one thing about John that I haven’t mentioned yet.

John’s office is located in beautiful downtown Chicago, but John is currently living in a small flat in London.

John is able to work in Chicago right alongside his co-workers due to virtual reality (VR).

Telecommuters like John are able to communicate and interact with their peers like never before thanks to this emerging technology. According to Goldman Sachs, VR is estimated to become an $80 billion dollar industry by 2025.

VR has been a seductive dream for those in the technology industry since the release of the 1992 horror film The Lawnmower Man, yet VR was actually first mentioned in 1935 by author Stanley G. Weinbaum, in the short story “Pygmalion’s Spectacles.”

Consumer adoption of this new technology will be slower than when PCs or smartphones were introduced. However, when the price point falls and people become increasingly comfortable with the technology, it could be the biggest tech-market event since the introduction of the mass-produced PC in 1981.

“Virtual reality was once a dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream and so were computers and smartphones.” – Mark Zuckerberg

So, is 2016 going to be the year VR goes mainstream? TrendForce predicts it will. VR will slowly break away from being nearly exclusively used in the gaming community and expand into other areas. One place in particular that is already starting to see increased use of VR is the workplace.

Virtual Reality Headsets

In order to explore the VR world, you’ll need to get your hands on a VR headset. The first really user-friendly, consumer-targeted VR technology is the Oculus Rift, but now over a dozen other companies have jumped on the bandwagon and are either already out or launching this year.

Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, believes that VR will become as ordinary as texting. His belief is so great that he has been willing to bet $2 billion dollars on it.

In 2009, Oculus Rift was acquired by Facebook. The inventor of Oculus was a 21-year old college dropout named Palmer Luckey.

By the time he was 18, Palmer amassed the largest collection of VR headsets in the world. He was always on a quest to find the next best thing in the VR world.

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The majority of the headsets he tried were too bulky and impractical for everyday applications. Others led to motion sickness (technically called latency), due to the restriction of the field of vision, and the time lapse caused when a scene cannot load fast enough to go undetected by the human eye.

His failure to find what he wanted led him to inventing his own VR headset, which would become the Oculus Rift.

The Virtuix Omni is a product endorsed by Palmer Luckey. It works in conjunction with the Oculus Rift or other compatible VR headsets. It is like a treadmill that captures the way you’re walking and moving. It was originally created for the gamer industry but is now highly sought after for use in other markets related to healthcare and the military.

Other VR headsets include HTC Vive, Playstation VR, and the Samsung Gear VR. Microsoft has a VR-AR hybrid coming out this fall called the HoloLens.

VR is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. It isn’t like watching a movie, as you’re immersed in the environment.

Where We’re Going We Don’t Need Roads

While we might not be walking around with our pants inside out or have flying Deloreans, there is one thing Back to the Future II got right: wearable technology. Virtual reality headsets are the future, and ready or not the future is here.

VR is being integrated into every industry you can think of, from medicine to outdoor apparel. However, VR in the workplace has some key advantages and disadvantages.

The traditional video conference may soon be a thing of the past. No longer will you have to try to keep your head unnaturally still and in the little 4×4 box on your computer screen. You will be able to look people in the eye and become a more effective communicator.

Do you need to fly in a potential investor to take them on a tour of a manufacturing facility? Save time and money by conducting the tour with VR headsets. Perhaps you are a travel agent looking to get more customers to experience Alaska: why not utilize VR technology and have them trek around Denali National Park?

Now that we have your head spinning with ways you can incorporate VR into your business, let’s take a look at the pros and cons to having a VR work environment.

The pros and cons include:

Pro: Improving Communication

The majority of discord in the workspace is due to miscommunication. Better communication equals less discord, as you are able to pick up on subtle nuances and nonverbal cues that you wouldn’t be able to pick up over a standard conference call. Effective communication is vital to keeping positive morale and increasing productivity in the workplace.

Pro: Lower Overhead Costs

With no office space to lease, no utility bills, and minimal technology expenses, you’ll have lower overhead costs. If you do decide to work in a physical office location, there are plenty of inexpensive options including workspace-sharing businesses. A workspace-sharing business is an office building that allows you to use their physical mailing address as your business address. Having a physical address establishes the credibility factor with potential customers. Some workspace-sharing options include being able to rent fully furnished offices, conference rooms, or the services of a receptionist.

Pro: Flexibility

With greater flexibility, you’ll have low employee turnover and productivity will be higher. An employee that’s satisfied with their work environment will be a more productive employee. The majority of people that are attracted to a VR workspace will be highly motivated, organized, self-starter types. These people tend to be masters at creating their day-to-day schedules. They know how to leverage their time and get the job done. Having the option of a VR workspace will highlight their already strong work ethic and serve as a tremendous asset for them.

Pro: No Geographic Barriers

If you want to conduct a training session with a client over in Hong Kong but you’re at a desk in Boston, you can make it happen. If you want your employees to take a foreign language class in Mandarin but it’s only taught in San Francisco on Thursdays, sign them up! You’ll have a larger pool of talent to bring under your company’s umbrella without geographic restrictions.

Con: Fragmentation

With everyone working on their own schedules, business could be fragmented and lack cohesion. Most companies strive to create a positive working environment that cultivates and encourages teamwork. With a VR workspace, creating the synergy achieved through face-to-face interaction will be more of a challenge. The internet has definitely brought communication to an entirely new level, but studies have shown that more people than ever are suffering from social isolation.

Con: Not a “Real” Office

If a client discovers you are a VR, or strictly remote agency, they may not completely understand the dynamics of such a setup, and could assume you are less legitimate, disengaged, or lack strong worker-client relationships. Misconceptions like these could be harmful to your business reputation.

Happy Work Environment, Happy Employees

John is able to leave his small, dreary flat in London and work in an impressive office space due to VR. John’s virtual office doesn’t have to be on the 85th floor of a contemporary skyscraper. He could be sitting around King Arthur’s round table in a medieval English castle, or having encounters with sea turtles while working on top of the Great Barrier Reef. Having a VR office space enables John to have limitless creative control over his environment.

Obviously, not everyone would find working on top of the Great Barrier Reef to be relaxing and less stressful. However, the choices are limitless. Since work environment plays a direct part in employee satisfaction and productivity, being able to exercise control over your workplace surroundings allows you to customize an environment which suits your personality.

VR is a complete game-changer for the workplace. With people spending 50% of their lives indoors, their indoor surroundings have a huge impact on their state of mind, productivity, and overall job satisfaction.

Virtual Reality to Actual Reality

Instead of having to fly across the country to attend a conference or training, you can attend from the comfort of your own home office. For some smaller companies, eliminating travel expenditures will result in a significant cost savings. More money could be put towards product development, acquiring new talent, or marketing.

We previously wrote about the advantages and disadvantages of working remote or in a physical office space. The points covered could very well be used for weighing your decision to embrace a VR workspace or stick with your ergonomic office chair and dizzying office carpet. These points include:

  • An advantage of working in a physical office space is that it provides a physical location for employees to bounce ideas around and socialize with one another. It also promotes a feeling of camaraderie and teamwork, which can’t be replicated in a VR environment.
  • An advantage of working in a VR office space is the ability for employees to be able to work around their own unique peak performance times. Some people produce their best work in the wee hours of the morning, while others may churn out their best at 10 p.m.

The revolution from the traditional office model – complete with cubicles, water coolers, and migraine-inducing fluorescent lighting – to a VR office customized to your liking, is just getting started.

You may want to look into a VR workspace for your business to see if it might benefit from the following:

  • Substantial cost savings
  • Increase in workers’ productivity
  • Better communication
  • Less stress (better health!)
  • Access to a global pool of talent

What are your thoughts on having a VR workspace? Is VR going to take off this year or will it get shoved to the back of the closet to collect dust next to the Apple Newton PDA and the 3D TV?


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Discussion
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  1. Sebastian says:

    Thanks a lot for this article!

    VR is also a really hot topic in simulation racing, which one of my blogs is about. In my Ultimate Simulator Guide, the last section is explicitly about enhancing your in-sim view: http://perfectsimracer.com/race-simulator-ultimate-guide-2016/ .

    —-

    P.S.: A little correction: Oculus’ acquisition by Facebook was not in 2009 ;)

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