Social VR in the workplace

For most of us, our use of Virtual Reality (VR) will be limited to hardcore gaming sessions and the occasional brand activation. But could VR work its way into our work lives? Social VR just might.

Perhaps the most exciting development in the world of VR that we may well see out in the real world by the end of 2017 is the implementation of Social VR. Social VR creates a 360 degree digital space around the user, in which live 3D-rendered avatars of other users can interact with.

In this space, users can talk, gesture, play games, and share files together. The software is advanced – capable of recognising and relaying facial expressions, capturing eye contact, voice, and hand gesturing, as well as integrating 360 degree video, image files, and live telephone calls, all in real time. As technology develops, expect gestures and interactions in Social VR spaces to become more complex and mainstream throughout the course of 2017.

An exciting prospect comes to light when thinking about rolling Social VR out in workplaces. For organisations with multiple offices, remote workforces, or many external suppliers, Social VR may be a shortcut to getting everyone in the same room when they can’t get in the same room – and a novel alternative to video-conferencing.

As we’ve previously explored on this blog, video-conferencing has long been tipped to become the preferred long distance collaboration tool among professionals, ahead of email and IM – but is currently being held back by limits to live video quality and the slow speed of social norming.

Social VR presents an unusual workaround for future-facing companies. By rendering participants’ actions in a 3D space many of the limitations to do with tele-conferencing, microexpressions, and body language, cease to be a problem.

There’s also the case that communication among employees in Social VR may make collaboration more creative. As a new and novel technology, users may be more excited to participate than they would otherwise in group discussion and collaboration. The use of avatars works to level the corporate hierarchy, while the placing of employees into a virtual, alien environment may stimulate employees into different ways of thinking – virtual simulation may be a tool to stimulate creative collaboration.

Furthermore, a Social VR experience is set to imprint more memorably in employee’s minds, meaning actions and outputs stick around longer. In these senses, Social VR is poised to become a productive escape from the day-to-day grind of working life.

But, as with everything, there are potential downsides to the implementation of Social VR in the workplace. As a very new technology, many may fumble with the set-up of Social VR, as well as patchy Internet connections and drop outs. Social VR may be a much-needed novelty to freshen up workplace collaboration – but while the technology is rudimentary and unintuitive, it isn't that practical. At least not yet.