A newly trained estate agent is five minutes away from their first viewing. Nervous, they tighten their tie and clear their throat before bursting open the double doors and greeting the clients. After a jittery start, the viewing goes smoothly and the clients agree to put down a hefty deposit, landing a significant chunk of commission for a young employee cutting their teeth in a new industry. The best part? The estate agent never left their own home. They wave goodbye, slip off their virtual reality headset and get back to their emails.
The future of work is a remote one, with Cloud computing software and employee expectations changing more rapidly than in any period of history predating the connected world. Virtual reality (VR) was perhaps the defining tech trend of 2016, and its no surprise that many envisaged a swift overhaul of existing business practices in favor of a VR revolution. The imagined scenario above is just one of myriad potential uses of the technology.
The reality has been quite different. Relatively slow adoption among consumers - many seem to consider VR too expensive or simply have limited interest in the product in its current form - has held VR back in other areas. In September 2016, VentureBeat reported that adoption among gamers on Steam had all but ground to a halt. This hasn’t necessarily dulled forecasts, though. According to IDC, the market for VR will have ballooned to a huge $162 billion by just 2020, and Augmented Reality (AR) will be worth $100 billion alone by 2024.
Despite currently being relatively muted, the coming revolution will affect everything from gaming to the workplace, though the actual effects on the latter are yet to properly come into focus. Perhaps the key areas that VR could actually make a tangible difference to working life are in training, visualization, and experiential marketing. The extent or speed of the change, however, is anyone’s guess.
Perhaps the area of business to which VR most obviously lends itself is training. In industries with expensive equipment or stressful working scenarios, for example, VR can be effective in preparing employees without endangering anyone or anything. The army has been a very early adopter for that reason, virtually putting their new recruits into situations otherwise impossible to replicate. Major sports teams have been trialling similar methods in the hope that they might improve athlete decision making.
What it means for the average employee in a less extreme work environment is unclear. One potential (if a little fanciful) idea is that apprenticeships could be made remote through AR. If an expert plumber has access to an apprentice’s field of vision, for example, and is able to highlight objects directly, they could feasibly guide the apprentice through the scenario remotely. The same logic applies to any on-site work, but don’t expect to see VR or AR headsets handed out in this way until they have significantly dropped in price.
Visualization is quite a broad area, but it’s another that VR and AR could have a significant impact on. To use the example of an estate agent again, imagine being able to virtually tour 15 properties in an hour without ever leaving the room. The client could then populate the properties with furniture of their choice to get a fuller picture of what the space could look like. This ‘try before you buy’ mentality could extend to hospitality, too, and any company that employs the technology early will have an edge on its competition.
Similar technology could also revolutionize product development. Virtual prototypes could be created far more easily and quickly than physical models, allowing companies to get feedback and identify problems. Though the products aren’t tangible, they’re photo-realistic, with full interactivity and functionality. These can then, of course, be sent internationally at the click of a button for review.
Essentially, the world is set to become even smaller than it already is. VR has clear applications in experiential marketing and in conference calling, but all of its projected uses are supplementary rather than fundamental. No, VR won’t revolutionize your working life like, say, the internet did. What it will do is provide further innovative solutions and add yet more connectivity and convenience to our already tech-heavy working environments.