Can virtual working move beyond clumsy Zoom calls?

Photo: @penvipada151 via Twenty20
Nov 06, 2020

Caught Zoom fatigue yet? New research predicts advanced technologies and 5G will add options for a full range of sensorial experiences to help companies reimagine the virtual working experience.

The study, “The Dematerialized Office” from Ericsson, based on a July survey of nearly 8,000 white collar workers globally, sees the pandemic as a tipping point for digitized work communications. Six in 10 respondents foresee a permanent increase in online meetings with customers, suppliers and colleagues, necessitating a need for greater tools to support remote interaction. Other drivers include possible sustainability benefits and interest in communicating at a higher level.

Not unsurprisingly, one prediction was that augmented reality (AR) and  virtual reality (VR) technology would “enable the experience of collaborating in the same room with colleagues” without physically leaving home.

Home work environments are also predicted to embrace the “full internet of senses” —  extending beyond video and sound to digitally communicating touch, taste, smell and the feeling of heat or cold.

Among the findings:

  • Close to six and 10 respondents see full-sense virtual warehouses, both for buying from suppliers and for selling to customers, by 2030;
  • Fifty-nine percent see spatial video and 50 percent digital temperature being used to engage customers by 2030;
  • Forty-nine percent would “like to go with their colleagues on a digital team-building trip to the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, walk its streets, taste ancient street food and experience a traditional bath”;
  • Among respondents who currently use AR and VR, 61 percent were interested in feeling surface textures and smelling items digitally and 56 percent in tasting digitally.

Privacy was seen as a critical challenge going forward.

Sixty-six percent of respondents think that by 2030, technology will enable them to sense when a colleague is upset to possibly help in working through tough decisions. That also means, however, their employer will know when they themselves are upset.

Sixty-four percent anticipate being able to write their monthly report by simply thinking about the key activities during the month, although that would mean the company might monitor other thoughts as well. Wrote Ericsson, “In a digital office environment where all human senses can be shared, there needs to be clear social norms.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see virtual working environments becoming increasingly digitized to the point of embracing all the human senses? Which predictions in the Ericsson study make more and which less sense in how VR, AR and other emerging technologies may transform at-home work communications?

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9 Comments on "Can virtual working move beyond clumsy Zoom calls?"

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Neil Saunders

Virtual reality and augmented reality have a lot of applications. However there is a temptation to say that they will be used for everything and anything. I do not buy into this, at least not in the short term. Technologies exist today that allow people to walk around virtual supermarkets and buy products. The experience is more cumbersome and less efficient than simply ordering from a static online webpage, so there is no benefit to it. Basically, it’s a technology looking for a purpose. All that said, once haptic technology allowing authentic touch and feel comes into play, and experiences can be fully and convincingly immersive, I agree that there are some exciting possibilities for retail.

Karen Wong

If Asia is any indicator, we will willingly embrace new technology that increases efficiency and engagement with our communities. Even for my own company I’m seeing a hybrid as those with families lean into 100 percent WFH while all of our single or younger staff prefer some in-person engagement at the office. At this point my concern is making sure that we’re able to build flexible resilience cost-effectively in my own company processes just as I’m doing for my customers.

Dave Wendland

The possibilities are endless and imaginations should be running wild with potential. Virtual workplaces — and marketplaces — are not going away anytime in the future and this demands new technology and approaches that enhance engagement.

For meetings, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other platforms are simply too limiting and tiresome. Interaction, collaboration, and “sensory” engagement requires significant enhancement.

For consumer engagement, sites must become more immersive, compelling, and much more life-like.

I believe the future is right around the corner and we’ll all wonder how we survived 2020 with monotonous and non-inspiring Zoom interaction.

David Leibowitz

The hurdle for critical masses is both cost of hardware and the number/quality of applications. AR/MR has some very exciting use cases. Taking the place of the Zoom meeting? Not just yet.

I see this evolving as more of a step change approach. We may not need fully immersive experiences for all remote work. Instead, we could possibly start with smaller (and less costly) hardware add-ons (like something that clips to my glasses) to provide “heads up” style notifications (new message, someone trying to ping me) – rather than 2D on-screen toast pop-ups.

Lee Peterson

It would be so easy to sound really old on this one, wouldn’t it? But here goes — I’m pretty OK with tweaks to what we have now. Take it any further and I think I’ll just have to settle on flying out for a meeting. Imagine that! Same cost so… In any case, please spare me the Oculus glasses, I’m dizzy enough as it is. I know — “OK Boomer.”

Ricardo Belmar

IF there is one thing technology has shown us lately it is that the possibilities are endless – but it’s the validity and ease of use of the use cases that matter for adoption. AR and VR still have too much friction for most users to embrace them. Will that change in the future? I have no doubt this will happen but maybe not the way we envision it today. And as for work from home – yes, this is here to stay in many ways. Will we return to offices? Yes, but even that experience is likely to change. How we collaborate professionally has already changed, and in many ways led to better interaction for many people. So it’s not going away. Like technology, if there’s one thing human beings are capable of it is adapting to new use cases!

Cynthia Holcomb

The robotization of humans. Harmlessly get in our minds, know what we think, slink past our consciousness to manage and control our senses, and in turn manage us. Making tech like Alexa, cell phone monitoring, and many other in-home and online monitoring technologies look like child’s play. Possibly many of us have given up without knowing what we are giving up in pursuit of the new and “innovative?” Which begs the question, “has technology dumbed down the human race?”

Rachelle King

If we go so far as to digitally smell and taste, virtually walk the streets of Rome and feel the temperature of a room you’re not even in, why would be ever bother to leave our house? Isn’t that the endgame here … to get back out to the real world? Or, is what we have now a real virtual reality?

Katie Hotze
2 years 6 months ago

Aviation has used VR for years to coach pilots through scenarios – this training application is both ideal and industry agnostic in terms of its reach.

"The possibilities are endless and imaginations should be running wild with potential."

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