Could VR be the future of remote working?

The concepts of remote working and integrated remote working business units aren't anything new these days.

But flashback to the before times, around March – June 2020,  when the dinosaurs of the corporate world found themselves floundering over how to keep the business running in a socially distanced world. Zoom shares went through the roof as the world clumsily muddled its way through, figuring out where the mute button was and where that weird echo was coming from. Remote working started its own industrial revolution, and in 2022 and beyond, VR ‘The Metaverse’ definitely has a role to play in it.

Entrepreneurs testing virtual reality technology with colleague in office.
A couple of bros trying to order IPA's in VR

Here at Epic Learning…

Which just celebrated its 6th birthday, by the way. Remote working has been imprinted in our collective DNA since day one because, frankly, we had no other choice. A small team of three where no one lives in the same city makes the morning scrum a bit of a logistical nightmare.

This situation forced our hand to be early adopters of burgeoning technology – not only for new opportunities in learning development but also for how we bridge the yawning divide between connecting through web cameras via Zoom and Skype calls and the tactileness and presence that in-person communication has. In 2021 when Facebook absorbed VR powerhouse developers Oculus and started aggressively marketing the Quest 2 at a heavily discounted price, it was an easy decision for us to give it a crack and put it through its paces.

A mini disclaimer here, folks – VR isn’t particularly new; it’s been delicately teetering on the edge of relevance for quite a few years. For whatever reason, VR has been stuck in the niche of being either too cumbersome from needing to be tethered to a PC to make use of any processing muscle for a decent immersive experience, or just too expensive. The Quest 2 and its newer upgraded iterations are the first real general consumer-grade pieces of VR kit.

So how does a small remote business integrate consumer-grade VR into the workplace?

Our whole team has a Quest 2 which we have been using for about a year. While the learning development side of things is still in its infancy, there have been massive strides in how we connect and meet with each other. One word comes to mind when I think about VR versus current remote communications technology – engagement.

We use Meta Workrooms to host our team calibration meetings every fortnight, which often include presentations and workshops for our team to onboard new concepts and projects as well as the general steering of the business. If you’ve ever presented a Zoom-based webinar, you’ll have found you needed to work much harder to keep engagement levels up, and if you’ve been a participant, you’ll know it takes practice to maintain attention.

Workrooms give remote meetings a sense of immersion and presence. The headsets have a remarkable way of managing sound so that when you’re sitting around a virtual boardroom table, the voices seem to come from wherever the person appears to be sitting. It sounds like a minor detail, but it really helps suspend your disbelief.

Being in VR forces you to be immersed because it takes up your entire field of vision – it’s hard to open up a few browser tabs to doom-scroll your Facebook or Twitter feed when you literally can’t see it. As a presenter, I’ll take whatever I can to remove distractions from the audience. Another bonus that VR has helped us with is how we connect socially. After-work drinks on Friday afternoons have turned into VR mini golf sessions, which are much more engaging than sitting in Zoom with someone fumbling around trying to figure out how to share music from their Spotify playlist.

VR still has some problems to resolve.

Engagement and immersion are powerful advantages when considering the possibilities for remote training or presentations, which is currently where our attention is turned in the metaverse. However, VR does have its drawbacks. Connection issues involving Meta accounts, Facebook accounts and workrooms have been a pain, and hopefully, Zuck’s devs are toiling away at streamlining it.

The other drawback, which is a lot more serious, is the sensory fatigue it can cause. Mileage will vary from person to person, but VR tires you out and sometimes can make you feel carsick, especially if you’re playing something that shifts your perspective or moves very fast (like first person shooter games or platform games). Thankfully, like car travel, it’s something that you get accustomed to the more time you spend in it.

The idea is to find the sweet spot for you and the group you’re with and work from there. That’s why Minigolf is great – you set the pace you want to move around the course, so it’s as comfortable as you want to make it.

Final thoughts

If you’re a remote business or part of a remote business unit, I’d recommend giving VR a go because, at the current level of investment, it’s cheaper than a work phone upgrade, and the software is reasonably priced too.   

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