Virtual reality is technology that transports users to a three-dimensional, simulated environment. The technology simulates as many senses as possible to ensure the user is fully immersed in their virtual world.
Although this technology is often associated with the world of gaming, it’s been used in a wide range of other industries. In the automotive industry, virtual reality is used to speed up the process of designing and testing new vehicles. Teachers often rely on virtual reality to transport their students to exotic destinations or periods in history. In the healthcare industry, aspiring surgeons are trained in simulated environments powered by virtual reality. This allows them to learn how to perform complex procedures in an environment where mistakes don’t have consequences.
There’s no doubt that virtual reality has led to major changes in these industries. But now, experts believe that virtual reality technology has the potential to impact consumers’ daily lives by completely transforming major cities across the country. How? It has to do with the change in the way people work, which was largely brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s what you should know:
How the COVID-19 Pandemic Impacted the Way People Work
Before you can learn how virtual reality may transform major cities, it’s important to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way in which people work.
Many companies were forced to temporarily close their doors due to COVID-19 lockdown or stay-at-home orders. To keep their businesses running, these companies had no other choice but to allow their employees to work from home.
This led to a massive shift to remote work in the U.S. workforce. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, only 20% of the workforce worked from home all or most of the time. But this number increased to about 71% of the workforce in the middle of the pandemic.
Remote workers had to overcome some obstacles to get comfortable working from home. Some workers struggled to get their employers to provide the right equipment, whereas others had trouble creating a productive workspace in their home.
But eventually, many workers grew to love working remotely. Most people enjoy the flexibility that remote work offers since employers often allow remote workers to work more flexible hours. By working remotely, workers can also avoid long, costly commutes to work. Remote workers also report that they find it easier to balance their work and family responsibilities now that they are working from home.
Even those who enjoy working from home recognize that there are some drawbacks to remote work. Two-thirds of people who are currently working from home say that they feel less connected to their co-workers now that they don’t interact with them face-to-face. Over one-third of remote workers are also tired of spending hours on video calls, which have been used to replace face-to-face meetings.
However, the benefits of remote work might outweigh the drawbacks for many workers. In fact, over half of the workforce said they would like to continue working from home at least part of the time even after the coronavirus pandemic is over.
Is Remote Work Here to Stay?
The stay-at-home and lockdown orders that forced employers to close their doors were lifted months ago. However, that doesn’t mean that everything has gone back to business as usual.
Many employers have chosen to continue allowing employees to work from home even though the restrictions have been lifted. It’s estimated that only one in 10 companies expect to return to the way things were before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A number of companies have already announced plans to make working from home permanent for some or all of their employees. Twitter, Slack, and Shopify, for example, announced that all employees would be allowed to work from home forever. Other companies, including Google, Intuit, Novartis, and Coinbase will allow employees to choose whether they want to work from home or in the office moving forward. Announcements like these have led many experts to conclude that remote work is here to stay.
The Role of Virtual Reality in Making Remote Work Permanent
Experts believe that virtual reality will play an important role in making remote work permanent.
One of the biggest changes that remote workers had to get used to was the shift from in-person meetings to video conference calls. Over 80% of workers who were working from home all or most of the time during the pandemic used video conferencing services such as Zoom to communicate with co-workers.
But research has shown that spending countless hours per week on video calls can be exhausting. Researchers have even coined the term “Zoom fatigue” to describe this phenomenon.
There are several causes of Zoom fatigue. First, making eye contact for an extended period of time is unnatural and can quickly fatigue the human brain. It’s also unnatural–and exhausting–to stare at an image of yourself for hours during these video calls. Studies have shown that this can cause negative emotional consequences.
Studies have also shown that participating in a video call requires more mental energy than participating in an in-person meeting or audio call. This is because nonverbal communication often does not translate well over a video conference call, so attendees must exert more energy to send and receive messages.
To successfully switch to a state of permanent remote work, companies must address Zoom fatigue. Some experts believe that the solution to this problem is virtual reality technology.
Experts predict that virtual reality technology can be used to simulate face-to-face interactions with co-workers. Instead of hosting video calls, companies can now use virtual reality technology to host virtual meetings. Because virtual reality creates a fully immersive, simulated environment, attendees will feel like they’re actually back in the office in a conference room rather than sitting in front of their computer.
Using virtual reality technology in this manner can help remote workers experience the personal interactions with their co-workers that they sorely miss. Because it feels like a real meeting rather than a video call, it can also help remote workers avoid the burnout of Zoom fatigue.
Shifting from Zoom video calls to virtual meetings powered by virtual reality technology might be the key to successfully making remote work permanent.
How A Remote Workforce Could Change Major Cities
If virtual reality successfully helps companies make the switch to remote work permanent, this could completely transform major cities from coast-to-coast.
Fewer employees will be physically present in the workplace if companies allow most of their employees to continue working from home. As a result, companies will have a hard time justifying the need to spend thousands or even millions of dollars on office space per year.
Many companies may downsize to smaller offices or decide to get rid of physical office space altogether. Either way, there will be a significant decrease in demand for office space. This could leave millions of square feet of office space vacant in big cities.
Some office buildings may need to be torn down and converted into residential buildings. Other office buildings may be converted into multi-use buildings instead. Companies that used to occupy an entire building may decide to sublet some of their space to other employers.
Now, office buildings are typically centralized in the downtown districts of major cities. However, this could change. Some experts believe that smaller office buildings will start to appear in other less populated areas now that companies no longer need as much space.
These changes could affect where people live, too. Right now, many people live in suburbs on the outer edges of metropolitan areas so they can quickly commute to work. But if these changes occur, there won’t be a need to settle down in the suburbs. Remote work will give people the freedom to live wherever they want regardless of how many miles their home is from their workplace. Because of this, more people might move away from the city to less populated, rural areas.
The Challenges of Implementing Virtual Reality in the Workplace
If these predictions are true, using virtual reality to make remote work permanent could have huge implications for big cities across the country. But first, companies will need to overcome a few challenges associated with implementing virtual reality in the workplace.
Employers must be willing to invest in virtual reality headsets for their employees. Without these devices, employees won’t be able to attend virtual meetings, so they will be limited to audio or video calls. Employers must also be willing to develop virtual reality platforms where they can host their meetings. This is a significant investment, but one that will pay off in the long run if companies are committed to making remote work permanent.
Companies must also be willing to train employees on how to use virtual reality technology. Although it’s not hard to use virtual reality, there may be a learning curve for employees who aren’t very tech-savvy or willing to adapt to new technologies.
Employers should also focus on educating employees on the benefits of virtual meetings compared to video conference calls. This way, employees will understand why it’s so important to take advantage of this technology.
It’s too early to tell whether these predictions will come true, but it’s safe to say that virtual reality technology will continue to have a major impact on the world in the future.