Many companies have already taken a good, hard look at the future of workplaces in recent years, developing strategies, implementing pilot projects and rolling out new concepts and solutions. Currently, though, we are only catching a fleeting glimpse of how new technologies will shape our working worlds and workplaces in the future. In some places these technologies will lastingly disrupt and fundamentally alter the ways we work. That’s why the “workplace of the future” is not a one-off project, rather a continuous process that companies and employees will have to engage with head-on.
Technologies are already being tentatively developed that very soon will become game-changers in individual industries. Falling behind already will make it virtually impossible to catch up later on, or doing so will require substantial investments. Among the most interesting and auspicious technologies in this field is virtual or augmented reality. It is not a question of whether it will be incorporated in the world of work, rather how sweeping the changes may end up being. Various forms of virtual reality are already used by numerous companies, for instance in the automotive industry and in product development, for example at Volkswagen.
Mixed Reality and Enterprise-wide Collaboration
Although seemingly less obvious and far from the traditional stomping grounds of virtual reality, the possible uses in the area of collaboration are highly significant nevertheless. Doubtless this will provoke the question as to whether every employee in the company will be issued with VR glasses! No, I can certainly put your minds to rest at this point. The actual issue is how this technology can be integrated beyond the actual mixed reality “workplaces”, where the technology can be used directly for meaningful purposes and to revolutionize how people work.
I’d like to illustrate what I mean using the following case example.
Let’s imagine for a minute that one of your field reps or a colleague at a far-away production site identifies a problem that he needs to resolve. Emails or phone calls with colleagues are not enough, as no-one else is able to say, “Just let me take a look.”
Current Procedure in Companies
What would your company now do to respond to this issue?
Depending on the urgency of the problem, an employee may be dispatched to resolve the issue on the ground. But this results in significant costs, travel time and workload, especially if the location is far away from the employee’s home region, perhaps even abroad or hundreds of kilometers away.
An external service provider is brought in to deal with the matter. But the consequences are similar, and the costs probably just as high.
No matter which scenario you pick, solving the problem will cost time and money.
Solution Using Mixed Reality
The starting scenario stays the same. The only new feature is the use of mixed reality glasses that the employee already owns or that are kept centrally at large locations to deal with these situations.
The employee activates the mixed reality glasses and uses the contact details shown in the display to get in touch with the colleague who can help to solve the problem. He places a call and establishes a video connection. He sees what the employee on the ground sees, while the employee on the ground also has a window in which he can follow his remote colleague, which facilitates collaboration.
The remote employee has many ways of supporting his colleague in the field. He can:
mirror documents like circuit diagrams in the glasses
highlight areas in the environment from his remote location, for instance using colored arrows or lines
The following pictures provide a first impression of what this collaboration actually looks like.
Another colleague can be drafted into the remote mixed reality session if that’s not enough. The additional remote colleagues can also be located anywhere in the world, as almost any device (PC, mobile devices) can be used in these sessions to support colleagues.
Which of the Two Scenarios Offer Your Company a Higher Value?
If it is scenario two – which I strongly assume – you are probably asking now how much all of this will cost to implement and how high the investments are likely to be for hardware, software and project management. Depending on your current IT setup, you would only need to purchase the mixed reality glasses and train your staff in the best-case scenario.
Inspiration for Other Deployment Scenarios
The scenario shown here is just one of many in which mixed reality can create real value added for your company. Allow me to add the following example as a source of inspiration.
Mixed Reality in an Age of Skill Shortages
In an age of skill shortages, mixed reality provides the opportunity to bring in seasoned veterans to offer remote support (mixed reality assistance) to less experienced colleagues. This means that the experience of your employees is not put to waste, for instance due to frequent travelling, but is leveraged as a valuable resource. At the same time, you can help your less experienced colleagues within the framework of “learning on the job”. By doing so, this will expand the possible deployments of less experienced employees and hence boost efficiency.
Mixed Reality: Simplified start with MS Office 365 Teams and the HoloLens
Companies that already use Office 365 and Microsoft Teams will find it easiest to get started. All they require is a Microsoft HoloLens , which I will explore in more detail in the following section.
Collaboration between Microsoft HoloLens users is based on Microsoft Teams and the software Microsoft Remote Assist that is installed on the HoloLens – nothing more. This smooth interaction means that HoloLens users can contact colleagues in the company at any time and wherever they are, provided they have access to Teams. It doesn’t matter whether Teams is installed on a notebook or another smart device. The benefits are plain to see – access to know-how and the support of colleagues from throughout the company at any time and location. After all, who knows which colleague will be needed in future to resolve an issue quickly and efficiently!
Microsoft HoloLens is a set of mixed reality glasses. They show the user an interactive 3-D image of an environment, projected directly onto the screen. Put simply, this means blending the real and the digital worlds. Among other things, users of these glasses can move virtual objects or access applications that they need in the specific environments. They interact using gestures or with the HoloLens Clicker or Motion Controller when necessary. The HoloLens view does not have to be connected to a computer and can be used autonomously, as batteries, loudspeakers, microphones, sensors, cameras and suchlike are already integrated in the glasses. Anyone interested in learning more about the technical specifications can visit “HoloLens hardware details”.
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