For many of us, the old-style physical office now feels like a distant memory. For months, we have been working from our kitchen, our lounge, or even our bed. This shift has been abrupt, and many of us are still struggling to adapt.
Remote work comes with its benefits – flexibility, freedom from geographic constraints. However, the physical office has been with us for decades for a reason. It offers lots of features that help businesses and teams thrive.
Happily, XR (extended reality) can help us to bridge the gap between the benefits of the physical, and the pragmatism of the virtual. XR technology tools like the SpatialWeb can help teams go beyond Zoom calls, and effectively recreate the office in a virtual space, unlocking unparalleled collaboration potential.
Nostalgia for the Physical Office
Ever since the pandemic began, the working experience of most professionals has shrunk to chats in Slack, tickets in Asana, and endless hours of Zoom calls. Nothing against these platforms: they are powerful and effective. However, they fail to recreate the human element of the office experience; that feeling of actually being somewhere in the presence of other people.
In a fully remote world, what are the things that people miss about the office?
- Natural, human communication
In an office, we encounter and converse with people in a natural way; the way we are evolved to interact. By contrast, talking to people via a webcam feed makes it hard to recognize and process visual cues such as eye contact, hand gestures, facial expressions, body language, as well as tone and volume of voice. The absence of these signals can create stress, conflict, Zoom fatigue, and sub-optimal operations.
- Sharing a space with colleagues
It’s a good feeling, entering a dedicated space where you and your colleagues are gathered together to nail your goals as a team. You walk by one another, wave hello, see your team around you. The team shares a space that is their own, and which they can personalize and own together.
- Serendipity and connection
Scheduling and firing up a Zoom call feels very official. The calls are formalized, and typically require hard action points. But in an office, great conversations and discussions happen by chance, without prior arrangement. You bump into someone, you get a brainwave and fire up a chat.
- A feeling of physical engagement
In the standard remote model, everything can feel a little… airy. People float around as a user, or an email address. We’re used to our colleagues being solid, visual entities that we can see around us. We’re used to them having a consistent instantiation that we can relate to on a daily basis.
Sitting at home on your own, staring at a grid of faces on a flat virtual surface, these things are missing. People are nostalgic for these features of the physical office because the current norms of remote work don’t provide them. Slack, Asana, and Zoom – or some variation on this remote tech stack. This simply doesn’t provide the features of traditional work. In the remote office, the same issues come up again and again.
How XR Technology Can Optimize the Digital Office
Dropbox has announced they’re going “Virtual First.” From now on, remote working will be “the primary experience for all employees and the day-to-day default for individual work.” Many companies are following suit. The percentage of workers permanently working from home is expected to double in 2021.
This means that companies need to think hard about how they can reinject the digital office with all of the things that people and organizations miss about the physical office.
The key to doing this is XR technology. XR technology can create environments that are virtual, but conjure the effects and experience of the physical.
The SpatialWeb platform leverages core features of XR technology to create a Virtual Office. Here, the virtual office environment reclaims the best features of the old-fashioned office, in a digital space. Some of the key features of the Spatial Office are as follows:
- A 3D world
The spatial office recreates the core feature of the old-fashioned office: its spatial reality. In the spatial web, companies can virtually recreate rooms, halls, walls, floors, windows. They can recreate a fixed space that can be entered, explored, and occupied. As with the traditional office, workers can get to know the space, grow fond of it, and make it their own. It can be an exact replica of the physical office space, or an improvement.
- An immersive experience
Rather than the flat feeling of a video call, a spatial office offers a full sensory experience. Viewpoints can move from first-person to third-person. The audio experience is fully 360, powered by High Fidelity’s best in class spatial audio. As with the open world video games that are beloved by millions, the effect is an immersive setting that creates a feeling of full presence for everyone in the space.
- A sense of movement
On a Zoom call, everyone sits still. In a spatial office, everyone present is instantiated as a visual avatar – and they can roam. They can walk around together, explore, establish their own corner, move professional functions to different areas in a dynamic environment. This keeps people far more engaged than making them stare at a video or screen all day.
- Spontaneous encounters
One of the great benefits of the office is the chance to react when inspiration strikes. Call a quick brainstorm, break out a quick meeting session. Much of the time, a visual mode is required, as 65% of the global population are visual learners. In a spatial office, the environment can be arranged so that videos or webcams can be streamed, or decks and images can be shared – at zero notice, when the moment strikes. In short, a spatial office is way more fun than a video call!
- Breakout spaces
Every workday has different requirements. Groups of two need to meet; groups of ten need to meet; people need to be called in at short notice or leave. This dynamism is hard to replicate on Zoom; you’d have to fire up multiple calls all the time, sort the invites. In a spatial office, new spaces can be easily and rapidly fired up.
- The joy of gamification
What’s the best bit about having an office? The office party. What’s the best bit of the office party? The games. Gamification is a great way to engage, delight, and incentivise your team. In a spatial office, the options are limitless: soccer, quizzes, even video games. This can be very powerful: According to research, 87% of employees say that gamification enhances their productivity scores while 60% reported a significant increase in engagement.
XR Technology is the Future of the Virtual Office
In the coming years, businesses are projected to enthusiastically embrace and implement XR technologies and solutions. Recent figures indicate a growing demand for XR technology, with industries expected to spend a total of $35 billion by 2023.
XR technology, when implemented well, can bridge the virtual and the real. In a spatial setting, interactions become more natural and akin to the real world. Users are not vulnerable to Zoom fatigue, and they get to move, interact and engage in a space that recaptures the best of the office, in a digital setting.
This makes the Spatial office the likely future of how companies arrange their digital workspaces.