We’ve waited a long time for virtual reality to become accessible—more than just a game played on the weekends or a fantasy in some Hollywood movie that no doubt features Keanu Reeves. In 1984, virtual reality godfather Jaron Lanier predicted that high-quality virtual reality would be here by 2020. Now, after a few roadblocks along the way, we may finally be ready to try virtual reality in the office.
Up until now, virtual reality has been expensive and clunky. But we’ve been given some hope: Analytics firm CCS Insight sees hardware shipments of virtual reality devices skyrocketing from 2.2 million in 2015 to 201 million in 2018. The market is blowing up: A big part of that will be linked to gaming on virtual reality-ready mobile devices, but business use is on the uptick too. Someday soon, we could be seeing our colleagues using virtual reality headsets in the office.
Virtual reality is more accessible than you might think
Not long ago, the equipment cost thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars—totally inaccessible to the average user. Cheaper options like the Oculus Rift and even cheap cardboard holders for virtual reality-capable smartphones put this tech within reach for small and midsize businesses at a bunch of different price points. Development cycles are shorter now, too; VR hardware manufacturers are doing a better job of reaching out to developers in advance to see if they might create software for virtual scenarios and environments. This means that as the tech becomes more accessible and more often used in daily life, it will come with a better package of software.
Virtual reality hits the office
Think virtual reality is only for the nerdiest, most hardcore tech lovers among us, and that it will never catch on in the business world? Think again—some businesses are already experimenting with virtual reality in the office. Healthcare, architecture, and education are all ready to plug in.
Tech support pros have a big reason to want to get on board: Customer service reps could use it to provide hands-on help for customers experiencing issues with products. Anyone who’s ever struggled to resolve a support request without actually having the product in front of them knows how tough it is to resolve technical issues; virtual reality could be integral to quickly resolving a ticket.
Products under development could be virtually tested by remote staff before being shipped. Employees who couldn’t make it to a conference in person could participate virtually, saving travel expenses. What’s more, conducting meetings in a virtual setting would offer an advantage over today’s videoconferencing by replicating the face-to-face interactions that are so necessary for effective communication, particularly in groups. Managers could also conduct virtual employee training, simulating real-life scenarios for training newly minted hires.
The future of virtual reality
What most people imagine when they think of virtual reality is largely a Hollywood creation. Anyone who’s seen The Matrix or Caprica has thought about being able to teleport into a natural, fully rendered virtual world that looks and feels like real life, but there’s still a divide between science fiction and science. We can’t liberate humanity alongside Morpheus in a perfectly lifelike, simulated world for the moment, so don’t swallow the red pill just yet.
Not long ago, virtual reality junkies who used the tech obsessively got motion sickness because of the lag they experienced while using headsets. The tech still has a long way to go before it’s fully mature and anything like the virtual reality of the movies. Mark Zuckerberg, who paid $2 billion to snatch up Oculus Rift, thinks it’ll be another ten years before we’ll see high-quality virtual reality on a mass-market level. The tech is evolving, but it’s still in its early stages.
Some twenty years into the future, experts believe that virtual reality will be a fully immersive experience in which two people who are in separate locations will virtually meet and feel like they’re in the same room, sensing something that’s referred to in the industry as “presence.” A recent Vanity Fair article suggests that we could even see the arrival of a metaverse, “a nearly limitless virtual world populated by billions of plugged-in people,” where people share ideas and engage in commerce, buying and selling goods such as real estate or avatars. The line between reality and the virtual world could be blurred at this point, with realistic experiences taking place in simulated environments.
Supporting virtual reality at the workplace
While fans have been focusing on developing the hardware for headsets and consoles so they can create vivid virtual environments everyone will want to experience, IT managers will have to prepare their company’s infrastructure to support this technology. As with video conferencing, they’ll need to manage the flow of virtual reality data transmissions across the network, guaranteeing rock solid performance by including it in their quality of service (QoS) settings using network management tools. IT security, including printer security, is also going to be important; just as with the Internet of Things, IT security managers will need to evaluate and mitigate any potential vulnerabilities using security tools designed for virtual reality. To ensure successful adoption, they’ll also need to plan extensive user training for staff who are new to virtual reality.
For those of us who live, breathe, and dream tech, putting together the backbone to support virtual reality would be more exciting than a lot of projects tech departments have on their plates. By playing with the tech early on, IT will be ahead of the game and ready to roll when it hits the mainstream.