How will a virtual office look like?
Offices have a longer history than you may think:
A short history of the office
For centuries people have been getting up, joining a daily commute or retreating to a room, to work. The office has…
But that’s not the topic of this blog. Here it is about how we use digital means to enhance our office tasks. And that they one day will merge together into a virtual office.
In the 80s our offices became digital. First we opened our word processors from the command line, like this:
Then in the 90s office suites emerge with word processors, spreadsheets and presentation software.
Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint became the benchmark for an office suite. After 2000 they became more and more powerful. OneNote was added to the suite and our office became a landscape with laptops and flat screens.
Today we do almost anything online with for example Office365 that is packed with tools. Also, online collaboration became more and more important as we work from home like this:
But working from home isn’t ideal. You cannot work together in a room and talk face to face. You are yourself mostly in the same room which gets boring. Is virtual reality than a godsend? For now: No. The headsets are too heavy and the pixels too large to work all day in a virtual office. Besides most office suites aren’t build for VR. Office tools are build for flat screens. Our current office software is a flat world…
VR is all about spaces. When VR will be as normal as the internet is now, so will our virtual office. In VR your office can be anywhere. It can be a 80s office, a 90s office or a desk on the beach or whatever works best for you.
For the office suite of 2040 the software should adept to this virtual world. Let’s explore current office software and see how they might look like in VR:
Word: As MS Word is all about words… this is quite 2 dimensional. It’s imaginable you can write with a pencil on your desk and the result is seen on screen. What’s of course easier to do in virtual that every window can be presented as a separate screen. Also, it can be combined with speech so you dictate your story while you walk virtually on the beach.
Excel: Excel is already better suited for the virtual world. In VR Excel, you’re not limited to tables anymore. You can use blocks of data in 3d. Though in a lot of use cases 2d works fine, in some cases like reports VR can be a good extension. Currently, researchers are already experimenting with it:
Researchers bring Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel into VR
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PowerPoint: Presentation software lends itself even more for the virtual world. You can walk around data, in a VR video and have more interactive slides (spaces) between.
But the real point of virtual PowerPoints is that you let people experience what you are talking about. Say you want to make a presentation about a new city plan. In the current way you stand in front of the audience while they look at your drawings. In VR, you can take your audience with you. You can show how streets or a building looks like. This counts for a lot of cases. For example when you make a history presentation about the pope you let your audience sit at the St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. Of course, they are actually sitting at home or in class.
We have now discussed Word, Excel and Powerpoint. This is like the holy trinity of office suites. But in VR much more is possible, thinks for example of MS Teams but then in meeting rooms. For your Monday morning meeting you can sit in a fancy boardroom.
Teams is the most natural use case for VR. An area where a lot of startups are already actively work on:
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There are several startups that are working on this like Spatial. Another startup BEEMUP, a platform for interactive and virtual events. You can see it as a crossover between Zoom, Live YouTube & PowerPoint. Thus, not only about presentations, but also about streaming, events and collaboration.
Another example which may not be an obvious use case for VR is mind mapping software. For this there also already software made:
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This software will come the Oculus in Q3 of 2020. So a lot of experimenting is already going on to bring office software to VR. It’s really hard to predict how are virtual office will look like in the 40s, but when ready I will add another screenshot to this blog.
Working within the office suite
Making several office software VR-Ready is not the end of a virtual office. The Teams use case shows that the office software and the office itself will at the end blend into one environment.
So without leaving your home you step into an office space where you can focus on a problem or meet other people. This software can be used in a traditional mode where you sit (virtually) for a computer. But you can change the size of the screen or have multiple screen setup without ever buying a monitor.
As the several examples of VR office tools showed the power of VR really comes alive when the software steps out of the screen and blend in with your virtual environment where you can dynamically interact with office software by using speech or your hands.
In a VR world everything is audiovisual, so this opens the way to different ways of working in the office. We can work in the office much more like manual labor jobs. We can build literally with data, like a constructor is building with bricks.
As a last example, take a network administrator. Now there are two parts of his office job. On one hand he makes graphical drawings of the infrastructure, while on the other hand performs tasks on the command line or with the help of specialist tools. In the VR World he can stand within the network while the data is flowing around him. As a plumper he can go to the site where data leaks and stop it.
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