How people might use virtual reality to share ideas and discuss strategies is currently one of the hottest topics in the collaboration marketplace.
On the one hand, the image of a VR collaboration — featuring a bunch of employees wearing ridiculous headsets as they sit around an office meeting room table — is a deal breaker for most of us. It’s just too much; we can’t see it happening. On the other hand, those of us who have worked with VR know how effective virtual spaces can be.
We are visual learners. I could describe Notre Dame in a thousand words — or even a million — and not give you the same sense of the edifice as a single picture would deliver. Better than that, go online and download a 3D virtual Notre Dame. You can fly around it to see it from every angle. It’s hard to argue against the effectiveness of that kind of virtual experience. It doesn’t seem weird, and it requires no ridiculous headgear. Instead, all you need to navigate through that virtual space is use your mouse and keyboard.
Of course, Notre Dame exists. A virtual office only exists on your screen. But, if designed correctly, that virtual office can feel just as real as Notre Dame. People have walked through all sorts of virtual realities while playing video games. Those experiences weren’t just entertaining; they were immersive. Whether it’s a great movie, a great video game or a well-planned VR office, the result is the same: It feels as if you are there.
In many video games, you create the equivalent of an office. I played a game where my team of gamers built a guild mansion that functioned as an office. We met there virtually to discuss game plans. We shared items that were stored in the mansion. It was a lot easier to manage the team and be productive than if we had just coordinated everything over email.
While none of us were wearing VR headsets, we used a virtual space. I walked my little avatar to the main room of the mansion, and if my friends’ avatars were walking around, I knew they were online and available to chat. That was no different than using the presence indicators in my office team chat application.
Working with what works now
Ideally, a VR collaboration office relies on a workflow that mimics how many remote teams work today but with the addition of visual elements. Rather than sharing items with Google Docs, access a virtual room with a virtual file cabinet. Rather than setting up a video meeting over email, walk your avatar into the virtual office meeting room. It feels surprisingly natural once you start doing it.
Despite all the technology’s inherent benefits, I don’t expect the VR office to happen in the immediate future. I am a fan, and I believe, if implemented correctly, VR collaboration will result in greater productivity. But the world isn’t yet ready. I think most people perceive VR as gimmicky and unnecessary.
VR is pushed — at least, for now — because of its cool factor and not because of a deep appreciation for its potential benefits. That acknowledgment ultimately will occur but not as quickly as some might hope.