Applications of Virtual and Augmented Reality in Business
Although the field is still new, it is clear that virtual reality will change the way we do business. The only question is when, and who will be at the forefront of the revolution. Here are just a few of the ways that virtual reality and related technologies might impact the office in days to come.
VR Remote Training Employees
With the rise of the Internet and remote work, today’s organizations are more geographically dispersed than ever before. Employees working on the same team might not report to the same office. They might not live in the same city, or even the same country. Although this trend has led to wonderful gains in productivity and employee satisfaction, it does have its downside. According to the Association for Talent Development (ATD), businesses spend an average of $1,208 per employee training them in the skills required to do their job. Almost 2/3 of the cost is attributed to tangential expenses like instructor travel, the development of training courses, and other costs not related directly to instructor pay.
Utilizing VR in the training infrastructure could reduce these costs while increasing the effectiveness of training. In the virtual world, a single instructor could teach a single classroom consisting of new employees spread all over the world. The technology is unaffected by physical distance, and the natural interactions it affords have been shown to be more engaging than a phone call or video conference. Training courses and simulations benefit from VR, as well. For employees learning complex tasks using machinery, or learning how to deal with unexpected situations, a virtual environment provides valuable practical experience.
Mixed Reality Data Organization
Life often imitates art. More specifically, technology often imitates science fiction. The modern Internet was predicted by William Gibson and other cyberpunk writers soon after the advent of the first computer networks. The first cell phones were inspired by the handheld communicators used in Star Trek, with later flip phones even modeled on them aesthetically. One innovation that is often seen in popular media, but not yet delivered in the real world, is the floating user interface. Think about Minority Report, or Tony Stark tinkering away on his Iron Man suit designs. The manipulation of data using natural, instinctive hand motions has obvious efficiency benefits.
In fact, the science consultant behind Minority Report recently built Mezzanine. This is a dedicated mixed reality room that makes good on those concepts. His firm is pitching it to large corporations as a collaboration solution. For those of us who don’t have access to that kind of space and budget, virtual reality and augmented reality headsets will offer the next best thing. VR could provide an easy way to transport the user entirely into their work, a space filled with data and charts and images to manipulate. AR might be even more practical, integrating hand-written notes, printed documents, and physical objects into the interface.
Virtual Reality Communication and Collaboration
The best aspect of virtual reality, at least from the standpoint of workplace productivity, is its geographical agnosticism. Everything that makes it effective for employee training purposes works just as well for collaboration. Team members located around the world could meet in a virtual conference room, pointing and gesturing and using natural body language to communicate. Of course, there’s no reason the conference room has to be a conference room. The team could just as easily meet on top of Mount Everest, in the Oval Office, or in outer space. The virtual environment can serve to focus employees, set the mood, or just provide a welcome change of scenery.
It’s true for individual workers, as well. Collaboration is a way of life in today’s workforce, but everyone sometimes feels the need to concentrate on their work without the noise and distractions of their co-workers. Virtual reality can provide this, letting workers slip away into their own world and their own to-do list. In the future, it might not be uncommon to see a physically open office where some of the more solitary employees have entered their own virtual cubicles.