Remote working policies have been one of the celebrated improvements of the modern age for work-life balance, as well as general employee satisfaction.  No longer do we need to commute through terrible traffic and waste hours of our day going to and from an office.  As work has adapted to the digital age, we can work just as well, and sometimes even better, from a remote location as we could in the traditional office.

All this seems to be crumbling, however, as big enterprise companies end teleworking options and bring remote employees back into the office.  But why?

Some argue it is about collaboration – remote workers are distracted and lack personal connection with their co-workers.  Others say it is about trust.  In reality it is probably a combination of both.  Ultimately, some employers feel like they are not getting the same benefit from remote employees as they are from those in the office.  But what if there was a solution to these problems?

Virtual Reality (VR) is the solution that can appease both employers and employees.  In this article, and several others we have planned, we will outline how VR is poised to not only mitigate these concerns, but present such a compelling case that traditional offices will become something we tell our teenage grandkids about to scare them into doing their homework.

Let’s dive right in and take on distraction.  Here are four common arguments we hear about remote working distractions right now and a couple of ways that VR will address these concerns.

ARGUMENT: Remote workers get distracted by their environment. 

Clarification: Distractions are everywhere.

First off, let’s be clear.  There are distractions EVERYWHERE!  Everyone has had that colleague that loves to talk (I’ll admit it has often been me).  They come into your office right when you are in the middle of a project and chat about their weekend for 30 minutes.  All the while your project mojo goes out the window and the project that should have taken 1 hour ends up taking 3 hours.

We need a solution that blocks out distractions at home as well as in the office.

Answer: VR is IMMERSIVE and  encourages concentration.   

What that means is that you are better equipped to block out everything around you.  When you are in VR you can still be tempted to fold laundry, or walk your dog or talk to your co-workers (if you are in the corporate office), but when you are working you are REALLY working – you are far less likely to be distracted by these things.  There’s something indescribable that happens when you are face-to-face with a spreadsheet you are working on.  A spreadsheet which in VR is so present, is so in front of you, that you feel like you could walk into one of the cells and place a number in it with your hands.  Meanwhile, you have tailored your surroundings in VR to be uniquely comfortable to you with your favorite music playing comfortably in your ears.  You have become IMMERSED.  You will still stop and walk the dog, but, for now, you’d rather keep living in the task until it is done.  Won’t the walk with the dog be so much more relaxing now?

You can (and should!) still take breaks like you normally do, but a break will really be a break when you take off your headset.

Ironically we could build a VR office that looks just like a regular office where colleagues can come over and distract you. I personally think we should have some of this to build up relationships, but we will have the benefit of being able to mute your colleagues as well or with the click of a button going into a private do not disturb room.

ARGUMENT: Remote employees get distracted by social media, movies and other things and are not as productive.

Answer: VR collaboration FEELS like you are together with your colleagues.

When an employee is in a shared office there is some social pressure to make sure we are spending our time well.  Virtual reality can replicate that same feeling.  When you are in VR you can look around the room and see your colleagues while you work.  You can even see what they are working on to some extent, which means they can also see what you are working on.  That social pressure is back in place when working in VR.

ARGUMENT: Employees don’t pay attention during remote video conference and call in meetings.

Answer: In VR you can supersize and interact with your colleagues as if you were in the same room. 

The technology has come a long way.  With devices like the Oculus touch and the Vive controllers, users can now grip pencils and draw on collaborative whiteboards.  Headphones give users spatial audio which means if John is on my right and talks, it comes in my right ear and sounds like he is on the right hand side.  The same happens at the same time for Jill on my left. I feel like I am in a room with them and working together.

Everything gets really awesome when users can save everything that was done on a digital whiteboard for later, or even save the entire room for the length of a project.  No one ever comes in and erases your whiteboard for the project. Or if you run out of room just create another whiteboard.  There are no limits in VR.

ARGUMENT: Employees don’t ask questions when they work remotely and get distracted working on things that don’t matter.

Answer: In VR your co-workers are still right there, just like they would be in a corporate office.

Remote workers have a tendency to wander off track.  When the time comes to ask a question regarding the scope or direction of the project, it is oh so tempting to take an educated guess on what the boss would want.  A week later the result of the educated guess is, “I should have asked for direction.  Now I’ve done 40 hours’ worth of work that was not necessary.” How do remote workers ask questions: an email, which may never get answered; a phone call, which will almost certainly go to voicemail (same fate as the email); an instant message (see email and phone call).

Let’s be honest, in a traditional office, employees are far more likely to get feedback, ask questions and receive valuable direction regarding their work.  That is a reality of being in the same physical space.  VR can recreate that.  It’s as simple as a virtual shoulder tap.  Instantly you are talking with your team lead in your VR office with all of your documents on giant monitors ready to be discussed – no voicemail, no read receipts on your email – just a real-life conversation with your co-worker.  Just like you would in “the office” but without the commute, the suit and thousands of dollars of rent.

These are just a few of the things that we hear about distractions from remote workers that VR is going to address.  What other thoughts to you have?  How can VR and AR help you and your team stay focused on the task at hand?