Most knowledge workers in 2020 are familiar with mixed reality tools like Zoom, Teams, and Slack, which allow them to meet in virtual venues. Merging the real and virtual worlds to create new environments. Employees who relied on face-to-face interactions in the office just nine months ago gather on virtual tropical islands. Practically “standing” in front of presentations that are broadcast to the whole world. Or keep the team spirit and pranks going with timely GIFs and emojis mixed in on your workstations
But these experiences are just the tip of the iceberg of mixed reality offerings. Augmented reality technologies have become common features in product offerings, along assembly lines, and even in surgeries. Now, with 42% of full-time American employees working from home for the foreseeable future as the pandemic continues, new forms of mixed reality technology are creating traditional virtual substitutes for offices and redefining the future of work in process.
These new mixed reality applications can help companies reduce costs and increase revenue. Many companies we work with use them to reduce real-world office space by about a third on average and empower remote workers, many of whom are already more productive when working from home without traveling.
Almost a decade before the outbreak of the pandemic, technology pioneers began using large-screen video “portals” to connect satellite offices to each other through informal, continuous video broadcasts. As this technology evolved, large companies began experimenting with virtual neighborhoods to keep their teams connected globally.
The reason is that when distributed team members couldn’t see each other, they felt disconnected and isolated. The lack of chance encounters affects not only their morale, but also their ability to collaborate and innovate.
Now, teams from some of the world’s largest financial services and retail companies are meeting in virtual offices using mixed reality programs like Sneek and Pukkateam. These create a sense of togetherness by showing colleagues mosaics with regularly updated snapshots, so they know who is at their desks, talking on the phone, or having coffee and maybe talking.
Virtual focus groups
There is also a growing demand for virtual focus groups powered by artificial intelligence that allow companies to go beyond what is possible in physical conference rooms. Virtual environments created by platforms like Remesh allow companies to take advantage of the types of information that are obtained from small focus groups. But at the scale of mass digital surveys, without the downside of capturing only one-way comments.
Companies use these platforms to conduct market research. They collect and summarize the anonymous opinions of up to 1,000 participants on a new product concept or topic. Equipped with an upvoting engine and artificial intelligence that groups and aggregates responses. Facilitators can also react and adapt the discussion in real time to explore ideas as they arise.
Finally, companies are turning to mixed reality environments as a solution to execute projects and generate innovations. When the pandemic struck, many companies were forced to freeze projects and research and development because they were unable to convene the people involved in person.
But some didn’t miss a beat, turning to collaborative tools like online reminders, shared whiteboards, and live co-editing of wikis, slides, and documents to bring people together. A bank we worked with this summer. For example, found that it could also design and launch a new line of business and a digital banking product in a virtual workspace. And in a fraction of the time, like a year ago for another product. When he flew into people to reflect in person.
One of the main reasons for this success was that the combination of video, voice, chat and collaboration tools created more opportunities for all team members to contribute. Rather than being drowned out by those with a loud voice or a powerful presence. Or if they just lost the session because they couldn’t fly. With greater representation in the virtual room, teams were able to achieve better and more holistic solutions in a way that had never happened before.
More ideas were shared and reviewed simultaneously in multi-publisher collaboration tools than if they all had to go through a live animator on a whiteboard. And the results were instantly formatted and digital, so they could be immediately used in reports and documentation, unlike another cryptic whiteboard photo.
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Mixed reality realms
We’re starting to see what the future of mixed reality working will look like. A year ago, no one would have believed that we would be working from home on the current scale. Yet virtually every big business we talk to today is asking for innovations to make virtual work sustainable and productive.
This will fuel the next wave of mixed reality, with solutions like artificial intelligence tools that can create optimal rotations of “chance” encounters between teams and functions. Affordable smart cards for the home and large multi-monitor displays that will bring virtual collaboration from laptop screens to more immersive large-format 3D printers that will allow design teams to physically test prototypes around the world from their head office. And for things that can’t be produced at home, fast citywide home delivery using drones of virtual happy hour supplies like paint and wine kits.
Like the grainy Skype calls of 2010 that preceded today’s zoom boom, the mixed reality technologies that are increasingly popular today will likely be largely outdated in the near future. Ten years from now, we’ll see the current crop of virtual desktops, discussion groups, and collaboration tools with the same disdain we now have for garish phone calls.