Workplace Realities - Embracing VR and AR
You are sitting around a conference table with your team, collaborating on a project. Ideas fly back and forth. Innovative concepts are being sketched out. Everything is clicking. Meetings like this play out every day at forward-thinking companies.
Now imagine the same meeting, but everyone is virtually connected, each sitting in their home or small office thousands of miles apart. There are no clunky cameras, strange microphone sounds or technology that is apt to crash. It actually feels as if you are there physically participating.
A system like that might seem like science fiction, but virtual reality and augmented reality in the office is closer than you might think. Examples of virtual and augmented reality products for the office abound. Take, for example, Meta, a San Francisco startup that makes augmented reality headsets that overlay holographic images on the real world. Office dwellers can manipulate 3-D models with their hands or browse web pages, send emails and write code from floating virtual screens, according to a Bloomberg Technology article. Chief Executive Officer Meron Gribetz is determined to end what he calls the "tyranny of the modern office" by replacing monitors, keyboards and eventually even cubicles with augmented reality.
Others are going even further. A few years ago Google Director of Engineering and futurist Ray Kurzweil spoke to the BIFMA Leadership Conference and told attendees virtual meetings are not pie-in-the-sky Star Trek dreams. Google is working on it now and Kurzweil predicts it will happen — not in decades, but in a matter or years.
If he is correct (and there is no reason to think he will be wrong), virtual and augmented reality will have far-reaching implications for the office, real estate and society. What does it mean for commercial real estate and the design of our cities if offices become “obsolete” because of virtual reality? Imagine city centers and skyscrapers without a purpose; public transportation that is unnecessary.
The office furniture industry rightly believes that there will always be a need for human interaction. Collaboration is an overused word, but it is necessary for innovation and creativity. The key to successful augmented and virtual reality is how “real” it really feels to participants. Wearing Oculus Rift headsets and experiencing “virtual reality” won’t cut it when it comes to office collaboration. Right now, Oculus Rift headsets aren’t much more than a clever parlor trick. Still, even this technology is making its way into office space planning.
The office furniture industry is in a unique position if it simply rethinks its mission. If you think it is the job of the office furniture industry to simply provide furniture to its customers, the industry is in deep trouble. If you think the job of the office furniture industry is to help workers unlock their potential — in whatever form that takes — the future is very bright indeed.
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