Workplace Realities - Embracing VR and AR

Posted 10/30/17 by Rob Kirkbride in Business

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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.

For more insights from Rob Kirkbride and to read his publications Business of Furniture and Workplaces Magazine, click here.

Rob Kirkbride

About the author: Rob Kirkbride

Rob is editor-in-chief at Bellow Press, where he manages the editorial direction for Business of Furniture and Workplaces magazines (www.bellow.press). Business of Furniture is fast becoming the weekly go-to source for news about the contract interiors industry while Workplaces takes a much broader look at how work is changing and the forces that are driving that change. He began his career in the daily newspaper industry, working at the Ann Arbor News and Grand Rapids Press covering a variety of beats, including government, police and business. His love for the industry began at the Grand Rapids Press, where he was a business reporter covering the furniture industry in Furniture City. That lead to a job as senior editor at The Monday Morning Quarterback, where he spent 10 years immersed in the industry. In October 2015, he left MMQB to start Bellow Press, publishers of Business of Furniture and Workplaces magazines with his business partners, Melissa Skolnick and Todd Hardy. Rob has a bachelor's degree in journalism with an emphasis in economics from Michigan State University. When not writing, Rob is an avid record collector with more than 3,000 titles in his vinyl collection. He is also a voracious reader and, unfortunately, a long-suffering Detroit Lions fan.

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