As technology rapidly evolves, it is clear that the landscape of work is ever-changing. Especially during and right after the Pandemic, there was a huge shift in where and how people worked, all around the world. According to US News, “home-based workers more than tripled from 2019 to 2021” (US News). And though there are differing opinions on the benefits and drawbacks of not being in the office, the statistics don’t lie. The capabilities of remote work models have become increasingly clear in recent years. A survey by ConnectSolutions found that “77% of those who work remotely at least a few times per month show increased productivity, with 30% doing more work in less time and 24% doing more work in the same period of time” (Apollo Technical). Additionally, it cuts down on energy and maintenance costs for offices, and helps ensure flexibility for international employees, or employees with disabilities/ health concerns. Remote work is certainly not going away any time soon. In fact, it has become a cornerstone of modern business.
Many have raised concerns about this new era of work. Sitting behind a computer screen all day decreases a sense of face-to-face interaction, leading to a feeling of isolation for employees. It may impede on collaboration efforts- it’s very different brainstorming together on a video call versus in-person, where you can draw on whiteboards, use sticky notes, or engage in hands-on workshops. This is where Extended Reality can emerge as a game-changer in the world of remote work. MR and VR solutions have the potential to offer seamless and immersive remote collaboration for businesses of the future. Through virtual meeting places and work-spaces as well as real-time augmentation of complex processes, this technology can bridge gaps in communication in ways we’ve never seen before.
While Zoom has proved its feasibility as a long-term solution to remote work, it still has its drawbacks. Many USC students can attest to the lack of any sense of human connection in sitting behind a computer screen, looking at a bunch of tiny boxes- for those of us that did a year online, it’s fresh in our minds. It’s very hard to completely express ourselves within the bounds of a 9×16 rectangle. This contributes to a sense of isolation, a lack of connection, and overall a lower morale for many remote employees. Virtual Reality offers an opportunity to create a space parallel to the office where employees can meet and work together in a far more immersive way, remotely from their own homes. Meta’s Horizon Worlds features VR “workrooms”: virtual office spaces where employees “can meet teammates, brainstorm ideas, share presentations and get things done” (Meta). Your employee avatar will move around the virtual space as you move around in real-time, reflecting gestures and facial expressions. You can use the virtual whiteboard to jot down ideas, or pin up sticky notes. It’s all the good parts of in-person work, in a virtual environment- allowing anyone to join from anywhere. This technology not only enhances communication but also fosters a sense of presence and connection among team members, irrespective of their physical locations, something that Zoom is unable to do due to the constraints of its 2D environment.
Oftentimes, gaps in communication form when one employee is remote while the other is on-site. This is particularly a problem in cases where one party is giving direction to the other. For example, an IT team directing an employee through setting up a tech system remotely, or a construction manager directing their employees how to build a part of a structure without being physically present at the location. Mixed Reality has the ability to bridge these gaps in communication with ease. Mixed Reality blends both VR and AR, creating an interactive and dynamic workflow for employees to interface with each other, even when remote. For example, before recently being acquired by Apple, Mira sold light-weight MR glasses that allowed users to see instructions or guidelines on their lenses, being updated in real-time by a manager or other employee remotely. Being able to overlay these visuals onto work they were doing, receiving guidance and feedback in real-time, allowed for increased efficiency. It will be interesting to see what this company works on in the next couple of years on Apple’s XR team.
While Extended Reality has the potential to change collaborative remote work for the better, there are currently obstacles that must be overcome to make this future accessible. VR technology is still in its early stages, and as such, it has not reached an accessible price point for the majority of the working class. As technology advances, this will hopefully change. It also, for this reason, has a notoriously high learning curve for those that have not grown up using technology. This is something that must be taken into consideration for companies looking into XR technology as a tool for remote collaboration. Overall, the future holds promising developments in XR for remote collaboration. As these tools become more refined, I personally hope to see enhanced user experiences, and broader adoption across industries.