As we look to the not-so-distant future of office technology, the role of immersive technology in 2018 and beyond is hard to ignore. Defined as anything that blurs the line between the digital and physical realm to the point where you’re entrenched in something that seems perceptually real, immersive tech may make your office building obsolete one day.
While the most obvious—and overly hyped—example of immersive tech is virtual reality (VR), it’s not one and the same. There’s significant debate over whether “immersive” includes augmented reality (AR) or computer-generated AR content. It’s an important conversation, sure, but let’s go with the definition that immersive means a fully engaging, manufactured experience and includes AR applications.
Immersive office technology is much closer than you think, despite 2017 consumer VR product sales falling short of their targets. But Gartner predicts that by 2019, 20 percent of enterprises will be using VR, AR, and mixed reality (MR), which is sometimes mashed up with conversational interfaces or gesture recognition software for a not-so-real day at the office. Let’s take a look at the shape mesmeric technology could take in your workplace very, very soon.
Immersive office technology ushers in smarter recruitment
Gartner also reports that organizations already use immersive VR for training, product visualization, maintenance, and prototyping. It’s an easy way to show potential employees exactly what a day in the life of your team is like, with some very real results: a 360-degree view of military training this year increased recruitment applications for the British army by 66 percent.
DHL’s warehouse “pickers”—aka staffers tasked with pulling warehouse items for shipment—are armed with AR glasses that provide smart recommendations on how to pull and stack items in the workplace. And for those with desk jobs, there’s also been some exciting progress toward immersive work: The HP ZBook x2 is a fully detachable PC described as “ridiculously powerful” that moves through reality with you, allowing you to interface with the screen, a Bluetooth pen, and a keyboard separately.
Live in a world with less awkward remote collaboration
If you’ve ever suffered through an awkward lag on videoconferencing, you know the technology isn’t immersive. Audio calls are even worse, since you’re missing some pretty important interpersonal cues. There’s a reason that Harvard Business Review researchers cite body language and facial expressions as key components of “emotional culture.”
It’s clear we need an upgrade. Whatever happened to meeting your colleagues in a virtual conference room? Well, this type of immersive office technology is closer than you may think. Existing platforms are already making virtual meetings and online team collaboration a possibility. When you start thinking about how today’s immersive apps could jam with natural language processing and biometric analysis, that’s where the fun begins. Maybe one day in the not-too-distant future, cross-cultural communication in virtual space will be augmented with real-time foreign language translation and analysis of your coworker’s body language cues.
The tech seems great—but is it safe?
With any great and exciting technology that’s on the brink of takeover, there are real concerns about the information security aspects of immersive technologies for the office. The World Economic Forum found that 47 percent of people worldwide are so worried about their data privacy that they’ll actually quit using certain tech services altogether—and immersive apps will collect a lot of data.
The scariest component of AR? Location data, hands down, with its potential to compromise personal safety. Immersive technology applications have the potential to read, analyze, and store details on users that are as intimate as eye-tracking and haptic touch patterns. If data sets on how and where you move through the world are breached, there’s scary potential for being spied on or understood in a really 1984-like way.
Application safety is another concern, especially with content creators rushing the market. Remember that time when Second Life players at a company’s VR event were bombarded with flying pieces of human anatomy? It’s hilarious, until your career-defining presentation is trolled or you lose sensitive company data by downloading a corrupt app. IT pros shouldn’t write off immersive tech entirely, but everyone should be aware that it’s a whole new world of personal data to protect, device security to monitor, and apps to be wary of.
There’s a good chance your organization will dip its toes in immersive tech in 2018—that is, if you haven’t already launched immersive customer experiences, training tools, or on-the-ground AR tech for employees. While you may not be able to send your avatar to a virtual work meeting on your behalf just yet, there are some very real case studies out there that tell us one thing: Office tech is on the brink of major change. It’s best to be prepared.