A Journey to the Infinite Office
In the first of a new series on the future of work, guest author David Mattin, founder of New World Same Humans and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council, looks at why our best work will be able to happen anywhere inside the metaverse.
Welcome to the metaverse
Back in October, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook was changing its name to Meta, signalling his intention to fully embrace augmented and virtual reality as the next computing platform.
This platform, he said, “will be even more immersive - an embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it.”
In this new series of posts, I’ll be looking at what this embodied internet means for the future of work - whether that’s the new opportunities and experiences it will create, or the age-old habits and needs it will help to fulfil.
I want to start by talking about something that seems all too familiar: Remote work. More specifically, I want to talk about how our current understanding of remote work is going to be radically reshaped in a world of infinite offices.
The promise of remote work
The central promise of remote or hybrid work is familiar and powerful.
In a nutshell that promise is radical flexibility when it comes to the locations in which we’re able to be productive.
But if this new world is to arrive – if we’re really going to be able to do our best work from anywhere – then we must first address a key challenge.
Hybrid and remote workers often shuttle between kitchen table, living room, office, cafés, co-working spaces and more.
While the flexibility is great, working this way makes it impossible to own any one space, desk or even desktop configuration.
Instead, workers are left continually making and remaking the best setup. Or improvising with one that is sub-optimal. The consequence? Lost time, energy and productivity.
In the years ahead, the metaverse will offer new and powerful solutions to that challenge. An internet you can step inside will allow millions to take their personal or shared work bubble with them wherever they go. This is why we call it the ‘infinite office’.
That new world is emerging now. And the infinite office that is emerging falls broadly into three types:
- Your private virtual office
- A magic shared space
- The truly infinite office
Let’s take a closer look at each of them.
Your private virtual office
The first iteration of this personal, metaversal work bubble is already taking shape inside VR.
Right now, virtual work environments tend to focus on another key dimension of our professional lives: Meetings and other forms of time-limited, ‘in-person’ collaboration.
But as VR technologies evolve – think headsets that are comfortable to wear all day and higher resolution visuals – a new kind of workspace will emerge. Step forward the virtual private office.
We’ll be able to jump into a virtual room and arrange multiple screens in a configuration that’s perfect for the task at hand. While keyboards and other physical devices will sync with our VR platform and be rendered inside this virtual space.
Meanwhile, passthrough capability (that is, the ability to ‘see’ the real world even through a pair of VR glasses) will allow you to define the boundaries of your virtual space, as well as see your physical surroundings when you look beyond those boundaries. That turns your virtual private office from a purely VR experience into one that encompasses mixed reality.
A host of productivity tools from the ‘on-screen internet’ will integrate, too. Got a Zoom call coming up? No need to leave your virtual office; just tap the Zoom app and you can take the call via a new floating virtual window.
This is the reality emerging now: A personal, mixed reality work bubble that we can take with us anywhere.
A magic shared space
The virtual private office is great when it comes to focused, solo working.
But for many, the work bubble they most often inhabit is a shared space: A room in which colleagues share new ideas, race to meet deadlines and high-five wins.
Right now, we’re still accustomed to the idea that this kind of close, collaborative work bubble with an in-person feel depends on being together in the same room. The metaverse explodes that reality and replaces it with another: A reality in which we can access that shared room from anywhere.
Team members will be able to digitally map their office space – including the desks, whiteboards and walls – creating a twin of the room inside virtual reality.
Once complete, it becomes possible to be in the room either physically or virtually.
Working in the physical room itself? You’ll wear a VR headset that allows you to see the room via passthrough while also seeing remote colleagues as VR avatars. Need to head home? No problem: Once you’re there, simply put on your VR headset and you can re-enter the room virtually as an avatar.
All this plus the other benefits of a mixed reality environment offered by the virtual private office.
The ability to access the room setup and key colleagues you need via a mixed reality environment is transformational in its own right. But it also gestures towards the end game when it comes to work inside the metaverse.
That is, a world in which the boundaries that separate physical from virtual disappear. One in which your office, and your colleagues, are never more than a gesture away.
The true infinite office
Imagine sitting on a park bench on a sunny afternoon. You soak up the sound of a breeze in the trees nearby and watch people stroll past on their way into the city.
Now imagine that your work – screens, apps and tools, 3D models, even your colleagues – can be right there with you, summoned by a voice command or a gesture. That’s the end point of our journey towards the infinite office.
AR is all about dropping a digital layer across our view of the physical world. If you’ve experienced it already that’s almost certainly been via a screen - think filters on Messenger.
But in the years ahead, we can get rid of the screens. Instead, we’ll wear glasses – not much bigger or heavier than a simple pair of specs – that project digital objects across our view of the physical environment.
That means that every aspect of your real-world working life – documents, devices, apps and even colleagues – can be virtually layered across your environment, blending seamlessly with the world around you. The boundaries that separate physical and digital – and that tie ‘in-person’ collaboration to shared physical location - disappear.
Achieving all this means making significant advances in AR technology, including miniaturizing that technology so that it can be fitted around an ordinary pair of glasses.
We’re some way from that right now. But inside Meta and elsewhere, progress is being made. The truly infinite office awaits us, and it will be a work revolution.
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