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by Jason Conyard, Vice President, End User Services

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about how to improve our colleagues’ use of technology with the goal of making it easier to do our best work. We want to enable VMware employees to collaborate and communicate in ways that are intuitive and allow ideas and productivity to flow naturally. We don’t see this as a nice-to-have, but rather a business imperative.

I think we can agree that in today’s workplace, technology isn’t frictionless and can still slow us down. People adapt to process and devices instead of the other way around. Too many tools, often with overlapping capabilities, make it that much more challenging. Looking to the future, the questions then are: How do we make work more intuitive, engaging, and even pleasurable? How do we create workspaces that are both enabling and invisible?

In the next few years, I believe our workspaces could evolve radically and beyond the usual constraints. In this blog, I share why the clues point toward augmented and ultimately virtual reality as key components of our working future.

Virtualizing the Physical Workspace

Virtualizing Workspaces

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies have so far been the domain of gaming, heavy industry, and science fiction. Even with all the advancements made in the recent past, the hardware required to enable some level of simulated reality is many hundreds of dollars and requires bulky headsets and controllers for a truly immersive experience.

As we push up against the limits of current technology and as mobile devices equal or surpass traditional desktops, these two simulated realities offer exciting possibilities. They have the potential to dramatically and profoundly enhance how we work forever. We won’t quite be on the Holodeck of the Starship Enterprise, but we could feel like we are.

Today, business use cases abound for AR, which supplements a physical environment with computer-generated perceptual information. Typically, this includes visual information, but also sound, touch, and even smell. It layers this information over a live stream to devices worn by the user.

AR is commonly found in very specific vertical applications, such as in airplane manufacturing where it is used to identify errors during the wiring of a new plane to ensure greater quality control. This technology was also a huge gaming hit on mobile devices with Pokémon Go, resulting in millions of young adults and quite a few parents hunting for objectives and creatures in virtual space. Augmenting our work-life seems like an obvious step along that path, be it with business dashboards, virtual projections of presentations, or interactions with virtual objects as they are designed and developed.

While AR is integrating additional information into our physical space, one could argue the changes are incremental, not transformational. The real game changer could be in VR and creating a truly immersive experience. Using a headset and controllers to generate realistic images, sounds, and other sensations, virtual reality takes the personal experience a giant leap forward by creating a person’s physical presence in an imaginary environment.

For business, the creation of virtual, dynamic workspaces provides a level of personalization well beyond what we know today. Colleagues could create environments that feel familiar to them. This could lead to a truly immersive experience that could be applied broadly and horizontally across the business rather than to solve a specific business function.

For example, you could rapidly spin up a customized work area. Select a table instead of a desk. Add a whiteboard. Insert a window with a live view of the earth from the international space station. You could create a fluid workspace to meet and collaborate with colleagues, whether it’s around a virtual campfire or, better still, sitting on the edge of a Martian crater.

One of the most powerful aspects of VR is its ability to bring sensory modalities with it. The senses of touch and smell are often underestimated from a technology perspective, but it is incredibly powerful in affecting our emotions and attitude. While still in the nascent stage, the science to add favorite or situationally relevant smells into a workspace, wherever that might be, is maturing.

Services need to evolve to enable and enhance the potential of virtual reality. Organizations could start by allowing employees to choose an experience from a standard package. From that, customized versions could be developed in much the same way presentation style guides and physical work spaces are created. We should also expect more personalized services, including kits that enable us to capture the smell of our home or our favorite park and release them into an environment of our choosing.

Virtual Becomes Reality

We are on the cusp of a workspace revolution. How we communicate, how we learn, create, share, and interact with each other could change beyond recognition. To make this possible requires major advancements in the social and technical sciences and inevitably a lot of experimentation and learning. I, for one, am looking forward to holding team meetings on a virtual remote mountaintop someday.

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