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How Will Virtual Reality Change Workplace Communication?

Virtual reality is starting to take off, but so far, most of its applications are focused on gaming. Over the past few years, consumers and industry experts alike have been building hype around a presumed explosion of VR tech, set to revolutionize the world, but with 2016 revenue of only $1.8 billion, VR tech has yet to meet our expectations.

The good news is that it seems we’ve merely overestimated the adoption curve. Though VR devices are largely concentrated in the gaming industry, tech giants like Google are too far invested in the technology as a universal tool for communication and entertainment to be dissuaded. In the near future, VR will be reintroduced as a potential communication medium, and it has the potential to change how we communicate for the better—especially as professionals.

Professional Communication:

Organizations rely on communication to operate efficiently, whether that’s in the form of team members keeping each other updated on a collaborative project or an account representative making a sales call to try and drive new revenue.

  • Better conversations. Research shows that participants having conversations with strangers in VR are more likely to lean in, and grew more comfortable in the situation the longer they were exposed to the simulation. They’re also more likely to connect and form bonds with the strangers they’re communicating with; this means VR could promote faster, more amiable connections between coworkers and potential clients alike.
  • Remote work potential. VR also means that more roles could potentially transition to be done from home. Businesses worried about the effects of their employees working in separate environments would be introduced to a new realm where face-to-face communication is a reality, even from remote locations. It could also mean roles that require some form of inspection or hands-on work could be more feasibly done by technicians wearing VR headsets, similar to how remote IT work today utilizes remote desktop access in some cases.
  • The return of face-to-face meetings. Face-to-face meetings have a ton of advantages for participants. Compared to mediums like conference calls and group video chats, it’s far easier to read other participants’ body language and intuitively know when they’re going to start or stop speaking. Unfortunately, face-to-face meetings are on the decline thanks to more convenient forms of communication—but mutual VR access could bring them back. VR could allow for more in-depth, effective, human conversations, no matter where its participants are.
  • Fewer distractions. One of the problems with modern tech is that it offers too many options at once. When you’re trying to focus on completing a document, you might receive chat notifications, or a ping as a new email lands in your inbox. These distractions prevent you from your work; similarly, when you’re participating in a face-to-face meeting, it’s easy to get distracted by a smartphone or tablet when you know there’s other work you could be completing Of course, multitasking is always a bad idea. VR could provide an immersive, focused way to have conversations; with a VR headset on, it’s unlikely you’d be able to be distracted by other task options, and because VR requires a bit of prep time and setup, it won’t interrupt your workday as much as a new chat notification would.
  • New opportunities for collaboration. VR can also open the door to new forms of collaboration. People all over the world could feasibly connect with each other and experiment in real-time, and embedded augmented reality (AR) tools could help them engage with the world in new ways, driving both innovation and the range of communication a company could offer.
  • Immersive data visuals. AR could also provide more immersive data visuals, projecting 3D graphs in a virtual environment to emphasize a point or showcase the latest information. With more advanced tools, hosts and organizers could feasibly manipulate this data in real-time, resulting in a far more immersive experience for everyone involved.

Okay, But When?

It’s hard to say exactly when all these fantastic communication facets of VR will develop, but VR as an industry is primed to grow exponentially. Within the next 10 years, Goldman-Sachs estimates that VR could become bigger than television, representing a $110 billion industry. With that pace of growth, it’s likely only a matter of years before VR makes a turn to focus on professional communication, and only a few years beyond that before it sees sufficient adoption numbers to redefine how we view and use workplace communication.

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