I Spent a Day Working in Virtual Reality — Here’s What I Discovered!
With so much now available in VR, I wanted to try using it to improve my productivity at work. I decided to replace my current multi-monitor setup with a single VR headset. After all, the viewing space would beat anything compared to monitors as I would have 360 degrees of movement. Moreover, I could finally have more space on my desk for stationary, coffee, food and other things! Being familiar with our office VR headset, I thought it would be quite easy to transition over to office work, rather than using it to perform a space walk, shoot enemies in SuperHot, or discover new places in Google Earth VR. Seemed simple, right?
Our office is fortunate to own one of the best rated VR headsets: the Oculus Rift S (a product of Oculus VR). As described on its website, Oculus Rift is a PC-powered VR gaming headset. At £249, the product consists of the headset and its cable, 2 controllers, AA batteries and a video output adapter.
The Facebook corporate division, delivered its promises to create a distinguished VR gaming experience for its users. This review, however, aims to explore the application of the Oculus Rift for another purpose: performing office tasks for working professionals.
Nowadays, there are plenty of ‘app stores’ where one can discover VR Games and apps. Such as SteamVR, Oculus Store, Viveport and Google Cardboard. After a little research, we found a suitable app called ‘Virtual Desktop’ which covered most of our requirements. We did find a few others, such as OVR Toolkit, vSpatial, DreamDesk VT. Leave us a comment below, if you’d like us to research any of these in a Part 2 follow up!
My Daily Tasks
I tried to use all my normal applications, such as Gmail, Microsoft Word, Slack and Google Chrome. Using Virtual Desktop, I could open and use everything I would typically do on my Windows Desktop environment. My tasks were mainly to post on social media, finish writing articles, communicating with colleagues over Slack and doing some other research via the web. These seemed like fairly simple tasks, as there was no coding or designing involved, which was perfect for this VR experiment.
The main advantage was that I found myself to be more focused. It created a work environment where most of the elements of distraction, were naturally eliminated, due to being stuck in VR! This helped me focus for the few hours I used it and increased my productivity. It was also fairly easy to use, once I got the gist of the functions and got comfortable with adjusting the screen size and degree of curvature for my preference. Like a large widescreen monitor, in VR it is actually surprisingly difficult to work with a screen that does not have a natural curvature.
Multitasking was also not a problem in VR. The large display lets you open numerous tabs and work on them simultaneously; often it felt like I had a 70” screen in front of me. Oculus Rift’s interactive technology smoothly captures your head movements, which makes multitasking even easier.
Although it was fun to begin with, the experience started to get annoying. I had trouble reading as it got blurry when the goggles began to slide around, most likely due to the Rift’s single eye resolution of 1080x1200. This sounds high in theory, but when your eyes are very close to the VR screen, pixels are more noticeable. Unfortunately, reading the screen required extra concentration and so I started to develop a headache.
Additionally, being unable to see the keyboard or mouse was another big issue. Despite barely looking at the keys on a normal day, it suddenly became very difficult when I couldn’t see the keys at all. It also meant that often my posture was incorrect as I would have to turn my head to look at something to the right, but was still typing straight ahead. I feel this would eventually start to hurt my shoulders and neck. The obvious solution to this problem was the on screen keyboard which works fine, but is not nearly as fast as typing on a normal keyboard. Moreover, having the on screen keyboard shown constantly, defeated the goal of gaining more screen space than my usual multi-monitor setup.
Using Virtual Desktop, I did come across the limitation where I could only display one desktop screen at a time. This had a massive productivity impact, as having multiple screen support in VR would have helped me manage my applications better and allow greater use of the 360 degree space rather than relying one very large screen.
Overall, I think that working in VR was more of a hassle than it was worth at this point. Despite it being fun for a short while, it was not an efficient way to work. Perhaps we need to wait for the hardware to improve, for example, increasing the per eye resolution may help with the visibility. Additionally, it would improve comfort and usability if the VR technology required less manual setup to change settings.
With a few changes it could really have some potential and we’re keen to try it out again in the future!