VR: the future of remote work or just a "faster horse"?

Juan SalasJuan Salas

Juan Salas

Bringing the office into virtual reality is not remote work.

Remote work has evolved rapidly, and its application has been established in almost all companies worldwide.

This advance in delocalized work resulted in developing a set of technologies to facilitate cooperation, task development, and remote dialogue: Zoom, Slack, Google Drive, and Notion, among other platforms, were vital to the sedimentation of culture remote in current jobs.

Amid this maelstrom, last year Mark Zuckerberg and his company Meta (formerly Facebook) announced the launch of an application called Horizon Workrooms, which intends to replace the face-to-face office with a digital one through virtual reality (VR) devices.

Although the implementation of this technology can be considered as "futuristic" or science fiction - since it offers a completely digital work environment, where people are immersed in a representation of the office and their colleagues - it seems not to be more than a costly way to go to the office.

Is VR the future of remote work?

For Eric Yuan, CEO of Zoom, "virtual reality will play an important role in the future of work, especially remote work,” but "great technological advances are still needed to make wearing headphones as comfortable as normal glasses and to make the experience much more seamless and intimate.”

In this sense, and to mention a couple of cons that have been found in the VR work experience, some users experienced an effect called convergence accommodation conflict.

This biological problem occurs when the brain is confused by the distance of objects. Objects due to a three-dimensional environment which has caused, in most cases, headaches, fatigue, nausea, or some combination of the three symptoms.

Although VR is used in most cases to consume content or to play video games, its intention to break into the workplace (at least in the way Meta has proposed it) reminds us of the early days of web browsing.

Internet: the first "meta-reality"

In the mid-1990s, people believed navigation would be super interactive and somehow replace reality.

Some museums even developed virtual rooms where “visitors” had to walk digitally (with the mouse), clicking on each step and work they wanted to see; that is, an attempt was made to simulate an actual activity through a computer.

This failed; people did not feel called to interact in this way, and, at least for that, Internet use did not work.

The same thing happens with VR; people ask: why do I need a representation of the physical office? Why do I need to know or display my desktop color? Isn't remote work supposed to focus on the quality of work and not on the environment?

If I want to know what my colleagues are like, I can use Zoom or follow them on Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, etc. How can an office representation help people improve the quality of their work or make it more enjoyable?

Maybe VR is just the faster horse

In this sense, the VR seems more like the famous allegory of Henry Ford in which he said that if he asked people what they wanted to move, they answered, "we want faster horses,” from which the inventor elucidated that they were looking for move faster, hence the birth of the car.

Going back to VR and remote work, people don't feel like making “more virtual” connections but more genuine connections through what matters to them, which is their work, not the environment.

So, what is the future of remote work? More likely not just in a more complex virtual reality but in the ability to develop a real human experience with simple and efficient means.