Guest Post by Dave Langdale
Dave is a medical copywriter and digital health consultant with Word Monster. In this blog, Dave goes all Back to the Future to look ahead at what the future of remote working might hold for our team - and yours.
In 2019, many businesses realised the value of remote working. When employees are offered the flexibility to balance life, work, family, they’re happier, have greater well-being and are more productive. And the movement is unlikely to stop there. With reports of employees choosing their own salaries and holiday allowance, the focus is shifting away from the business needs to the individual’s needs. So, as we now have our foot truly in the door of 2020, it’s a good time to look further ahead into the future and ask how remote working might change over the next decade…
If there was one thing that could transform how we approach work, technology has to be it. Already in 2020, we have a suite of tools that allow almost seamless remote working. Whether its messaging apps like Slack and Skype, project management tools like Jira and Trello, or video conferencing programs like Zoom, it’s possible to hold meetings and manage projects from anywhere in the world.
But still, there are certain industries where personal presence is preferred. If you’re designing as a team and you’re evaluating a version together, nothing beats grouping around a print out and sharing ideas. Client meetings also never feel quite the same over video conferencing. Someone’s always too close to the camera or unable to start screen sharing. But what if you could be in the same room in a virtual world?
The answer might be in virtual or mixed reality. The technology is still in its infancy at the moment, but in ten years, who knows what we might see? The closest example could be in this concept video for Microsoft HoloLens.
The real-life tech never matched up to this video. But the possibilities are unbelievable. Imagine all being able to walk around the same 3D model, concept or PDF and make annotations in real time, from across the world. It’s mind boggling.
Companies are already exploring the concept of virtual reality offices. Futuristic rooms with dozens of monitors that allow colleagues to physically work together, whether its transporting yourself inside a 3D graph and adjusting the levels with your hands, or mapping out a whole slide deck in mid-air. In a virtual office, there are no boundaries.
One amazing possibility with a virtual reality office is the unlimited space on offer. Forget the overheads of a city centre building, the cost of running it and the crazy commutes. A virtual reality office could offer you a whole planet for just the cost of a server and a few headsets. Imagine being able to house a global team in one space; thousands of people in one space station, one underwater base, or hi-tech office, able to warp to a meeting room and see their colleagues in seconds.
You could have a digital workshop ten, hundred, thousand times bigger than anything physically possible in the real world. Each person could have their own multi-screen workstation with no risk of being cramped together while any member of the team is only a button press away.
Human contact is one area in which remote working currently struggles to compete with real life offices. Yes, there are video conferencing tools where you can see each other’s faces once a day/week. But over-the-divider banter, coffee-machine chat and lunchtime expeditions aren’t possible when you’re hundreds, potentially thousands of miles apart.
In 2030, it’s likely that technology will pull these barriers down. It’s not unreasonable to assume that virtual worlds may closely resemble our own, where accurate representations of ourselves or carefully constructed avatars can exist almost seamlessly. Haptic clothing, including gloves and vests are available at the moment, which allow you to feel and touch in virtual reality. Fast forward a decade and it’s more than possible that we’ll be able to perceive everything in the virtual world in the same way we would in the real world.
There will be ample opportunity and capability for remote workers of the future to engage in the everyday hijinks enjoyed by the rest of the world’s working population. You may even be able to feel the post-it you’re scrunching up and chucking at your boss.
Remote working can often involve spending large amounts of time sedentary. With no meetings, no boardroom and no lunch buddies, it’s possible (unless you’re in a shared office space) to spend a lot more of your day sat down.
What might this look like in 2030 though? Well, I’m sticking with the virtual reality angle, and introducing you to the omni-directional treadmill.
One look at today’s concept designs and you can see how janky they are. Users don’t look comfortable and you expect the machines to break at any moment. But this is 2020. In a decade, this tech will be honed, commercialised. We might look back and laugh at these clunky contraptions in the same way we did with 90s car phones or the Dreamcast.
Virtual devices are yet to figure out how to help people move around their worlds without feeling sick. These treadmills might be the answer. Not just for the technology to succeed, but for the future of remote working. It would allow you to stay mobile and healthy, while operating in your virtual workspace.
So after a brief glimpse into the future, you may be excited or terrified at the prospects awaiting us. Only time will really tell what awaits us. Will remote workers be forever destined to sit behind webcams and for our colleagues to only see us from the waist up? Or will we one day be striding merrily down a virtual street on our way to a space station café for lunch? I, for one, can’t wait to find out.