Can Augmented Reality Workspaces Improve Jobs?

I had never heard of an “augmented reality workspace” until I saw an article, “Step Into Your New Virtual Office,” by Maria Lokke in Wired last week.

The funny thing about the article is, instead of the beauty part being that you can sit in your pajamas on the sofa at home typing away, the technology is being talked about as an enhancement to the office. So, in other words, you still have to trek to the office, and sit in your uncomfortable little cubicle, even though you have “smart glasses” technology that allow you to see and access all the same things from your living room couch. What’s the point of that?

Lokke writes: “Picture it: You get to the office, grab a keyboard off the shelf (because air typing still sucks), and find an open space. You log in to your glasses, and your entire workspace appears in front of you. To your right is a shelf stocked with all the apps and bookmarks you use every day. You reach over and grab one, place it on the floor, and the full-scale CAD model of the car you were designing pops into place. Pinned to the wall are all your digital notes, arranged in exactly the way you left them last night.”

It sounds great—if I can do it from home, or from another place more desirable than the office, like a luxury hut in the jungles of Belize, or maybe a Swiss chalet in the Alps.

That initial reaction of not understanding the value of augmented reality except in terms of avoidance is one of the challenges of the technology. Like the video game players who spend all their time at home on the couch, augmented reality at work will be valued by many like me as a way to avoid live, face-to-face interaction with others. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not a bad thing, but many would disagree with me.

How do you add a technology, such as augmented reality via specialized smart glasses, while making it clear that this is to enhance your physical office and make communication with others more impactful, rather than a way to hide away in your bedroom? “The idea of an office full of people absorbed in AR might seem isolating, but collaboration could actually improve,” Lokke writes. “Working together in mixed reality lets you share information in more useful ways than with e-mail and Slack. (There will still be the need to meet face to face—though maybe just for coffee.)”

One way is to center your presentation of the technology as a tool for sharing and collaboration. If it’s positioned as a team-working tool, maybe you’ll have a better chance at employees using it to share ideas for new products, promotional campaigns, or new customer services. The graphical power of augmented reality means it may be better than any other tool for showing others what you’re envisioning. At its best, this kind of high technology can allow you to let your co-workers see your work and planning through your eyes—as if it were possible to give someone your vision of the world by having them try on a pair of your glasses. That’s not the way it would work, I’m guessing, but it may be easier than ever to take photos or make copies of what you’re envisioning, and then instantly share them with colleagues.

With so much capacity to enhance collaboration, should the technology also be used to sooth the psyches of introverts like me, who get reenergized by spending time alone? If you have employees with a proven track record of getting high-quality work done on time, is it OK to give them the option of working from home two days a week, or more? I’ve heard there’s a trend away from allowing employees to telecommute, but if augmented reality becomes a mainstay of our offices in the next 10 years, it becomes less important than ever where we work, right?

The other question I have is whether avoidance in the workplace is a bad thing. If advanced technology gives employees the ability to avoid things (and people) who distract and upset them, and the end result is a better work product, then that’s a good thing, isn’t it? I listen to music all day on noise-canceling headphones to avoid overhearing irritating conversations, and to tune out the presence of an annoying boss with whom I share a cubicle. The young(ish) person with earphones on his or her head has become a negative stereotype, and is considered by some to be anti-social, but it allows me to be a more efficient, less-stressed employee, providing important psychological benefits.

With immersive technology, it may be important to think about how it will interact with different personality types. Some people will benefit most by using the technology as a collaboration and interaction tool, while others, like me, will benefit by it enabling an ever-more independent work style, and the freedom to be anywhere—and yet still be there with co-workers.

Have you heard about augmented reality workspaces? How do you think this technology could benefit all personality types in your office? Should employees be encouraged to use the technology in any way they feel most benefits them?


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