It’s no longer unique or insightful to point out that the pandemic has accelerated a number of societal trends that were already in motion. That list of trends includes the move of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) from an entertainment-focused industry to a business facing one. Pandemic-driven remote work has drastically accelerated the implementation of these technologies in professional settings. From industrial enterprises to technical training to remote installation of new equipment, AR and VR have stepped in to replace the in-person interactions for which videoconferencing is insufficient.
AR allows for remote employees to share the same view from across the planet, allowing instruction on equipment installation, repair or use. With 5G technology being rolled out, new equipment needs to be installed in remote locations around the world. In some cases, only a handful of people initially have the expertise to install said equipment. Following the traditional classroom model, which would see these trainers traveling around the world, or students flown into centralized locations, there would be significant inefficiencies created in terms of time and cost.
Under this new paradigm leveraging AR, the trainers will “travel” to all the installations virtually, and observe and advise in real time as an engineer on the ground installs the new hardware. The instructions can even be overlaid directly on the hardware and trainers could write notes in real time in the engineer’s field of view.
In a less industrial setting, this technology can create a more connected workplace when some or all of the employees are working remotely. 60-70% of workers reported enjoying the switch to remote work, but even those who initially enjoyed the change are reporting “Zoom burnout.” AR technology is key to blending the benefits of remote work realized during the pandemic with the increased connectivity of in-person collaboration.
Allowing workers to be more connected during the day helps to return some work-life balance to the work from home equation, setting a more clear line between work and non-work hours. Managers can also better monitor their employees and make sure everyone is staying productive. All of the deficiencies of Zoom that were recognized throughout the lockdown, have shown that a transition to business facing AR is going to happen faster than before.
As we invite more internet-connected technology into our homes and offices, especially technology that involves cameras and other recording devices, the role of security becomes even more important. If these systems are penetrated it not only impacts a company’s bottom line, it could threaten the safety of their employees and their families. With the number of different companies competing to bring this technology to market, it is important to have strong security protocols across all platforms to protect users.
In addition to security, this new era of AR and VR tech being part of our work lives demands a renewed consideration of privacy. When we work in an office setting there is an expectation of some level of monitoring, but it can be hard to extend that same level of surveillance to the home office. Employers may need to let go of the old notion that if you can’t see someone at their desk they aren’t working. It’s been proven false by increased productivity since we’ve all transitioned to working from home. In exchange for that concession, employees may need to accept that their working area, while being productive, comes with some expectation of monitoring.
Last but not least, access to high-quality telecom infrastructure, which is already an important equity issue, will become even more important. In a business application of AR, slow speeds and latency come with much higher consequences than entertainment uses. Both businesses and governments need to invest heavily in expanding access to fiber-optic internet and 5G wireless to all areas where people live. As use of these demanding technologies becomes more essential to existing in the modern work environment, lack of access becomes more dire of an issue.
The future of work has the potential to truly improve the work life balance of many workers—and quality of life for Americans overall. We will be able to spend more time with our families, take better care of ourselves, and optimize our use of productive work time throughout the day?
We are always trying to make the future better for people than it was in the past. These changes should be embraced. This technology is just the latest in a long line of upgrades aimed at empowering the workforce.
Mark Concannon is CEO of Concannon Business Solutions and Concannon XR