Mixing realities for workplace collaboration

A look at how AR and VR can transform the way we work together

Magic Leap One Creator Edition | Image Credit: Magic Leap
Seeing things that do not exist is now cool!

With augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) becoming more consumer-friendly and affordable, almost everyone can now see things that don’t exist. And while there are some great video games for AR and VR, their real power lies in how they can change the way we communicate and collaborate. Imagine meetings conducted in virtual reality, with participants spread across the globe but sitting together in a virtual room!

Brands at the forefront of the VR evolution, Facebook-owned Oculus and HTC, have been hard at work improving both the hardware and the software that work together to create virtual spaces. The hardware is getting better and becoming more portable, while the software is now capable of tracking one’s hands in virtual space! These brands recognize that the future is in social communication and tools that enable it, and they are continuously innovating to bring down the barriers to entry.

On the other hand, augmented reality is already helping factory workers be more productive in a few pilots. Teams at Google with its Glass 2.0 and Vuzix with its smart glasses are seeing increased adoption in industrial manufacturing operations. The sweet spot seems to be providing operation critical information to workers in manufacturing and logistics.

How will these two contrasting visions of the future of immersive experiences affect the workplace? Or can they work better together?

A common belief is that virtual reality and augmented reality compliment each other in terms of market-fit. Virtual reality is consumer-first with applications in games, movies, and events. Augmented reality is business-first with applications in field services, manufacturing, and training. They can work together to create a superior toolset for the virtual professional of tomorrow’s workplace.

“A person in a virtual reality headset and headphones” by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Throwing in mixed reality into the equation

In an increasingly distributed workplace, with teammates often located in different time zones, VR offers the ability to bring people together to collaborate face-to-face, so to speak. AR has uses beyond showing an information overlay through a head-mounted device. As Magic Leap showed off in its demo, AR can create new mediums for user interaction, turning UX on its head and leading to more immersive consumer experiences.

And now, Microsoft is baking in support for ‘mixed reality’, its version of AR, into the Windows operating system! This means, in a year or two, almost everyone will be able to enjoy moving between realities — at home and at work! All they’ll need is a headset to plug into their smartphone or PC.

Enterprises will embrace and adopt mixed reality

Gartner says that augmented, virtual and mixed reality technologies will be adopted in a fifth of large organizations as part of the digital transformation process. AR and VR help organizations expand real-time communication by providing employees and customers the ability to gain real-time information and use virtual environments to test innovations.

Implemented in sync with business goals, AR and VR can transform an organization’s work culture, enable people to collaborate more naturally and efficiently, and lead to recurring savings on corporate travel expenses alone!

A peek into the future of John

Here is a quick look at a day in the life of a fictional employee, John:

Photo by Eddie Kopp on Unsplash
John walks into his home office wearing what looks like regular Warby Parkers. He settles into his empty desk and says, “Okay Google, let’s start work!” The Warby Parkers are actually smart glasses that can switch between augmented and virtual realities, so John is actually seeing a huge screen in front of him, and his empty office room is not so empty anymore. He starts dictating notes and the smart glasses transcribe that into a document.
Once done with the document, John moves his hand sideways to move to the next app on his virtual workstation, and starts tapping away on the desk. The smart glasses can overlay a keyboard on the desk, and record user input. He attends a virtual meeting with colleagues in Sydney and Berlin, and his smart glasses make it happen. The glasses darken, and he is transported into a virtual space — a meeting room with his colleagues wearing similar glasses.
A few hours later, after finishing up his work, John says, “Okay Google, we’re done for now.” and the smart glasses revert to regular lens. He moves back into the living room, lies down on the sofa, and says, “Okay Google, play Newsroom Season 1 Episode 2.” You can guess what happens next.

If this feels like badly written science fiction, you may be right. It’s badly written. But it’s not science fiction. It’s the power of AR and VR technology, fit into a regular albeit stylish pair of glasses, and powered by amazing software that folks at Google spent their lives developing.

The day mixing realities becomes a reality is not too far away. In the workplace and in our personal lives, AR and VR technology will help us communicate and collaborate better, faster, naturally, and in real-time.