Emerging technologies including Microsoft’s Mesh and Facebook’s Horizon Workrooms hint at how augmented reality may become part of the future hybrid workplace. I caught up with Gordon Hempton and Wes Hather, co-founders of the augmented reality/metaverse communication platform Spot to see how they visualize the future of work.
Most people won’t be at the cutting edge
What’s critical with Spot’s solution is that while it is evidently built to surf the emerging AR/VR wave, it works today using existing technologies. “We firmly believe that the future of work is not going to be based around text and video-tiles,” they said.
The founders don’t think AR and VR will become mainstream tech for up to a decade. They believe the tools used within the new workplace must “cater to the lowest common denominator.” That’s why Spot will work in a web browser.
Of course, what defines that denominator is also changing. Increasingly, Macs seem to be carving out a huge place in the future of work.
The introduction of M-series processors has raised the status of the platform in business. “Since our product is really pushing the envelope on what is possible inside web browsers, we have really seen what these processors are capable of and the difference they make relative to other processors,” said Hempton.
“I have been regularly upgrading my computer every 1-2 years for the last 20 years, and the jump from Intel to M1 is probably the first time I have ever felt Moore’s law so dramatically — it made a massive difference in speed. These types of advancements are really going to push the future of work forward,” he said.
What Spot does
Spot provides both chat and videoconferencing and lets companies build digital offices in which work can take place. At work, you explore an interactive office space in which you can communicate with co-workers and visually find them in the abstracted office space.
In use, teams use virtual avatars placed within virtual branded offices. Team members can see each other, see who’s meeting with whom, and simply walk up to one another and have a conversation.
I see the platform as a little like Teamflow or Walkabout, but Spot’s founders counter that their solution is already fully 3D, immersive, and provides a richer set of enterprise-grade communication tools, built for people who have already become familiar with Slack or Teams. Some big names in tech (potentially including Google, Apple, and Uber) are already making use of Spot in some way, they say.
Well might they do so. Futurist Bernard Marr sees huge opportunities for AR within the evolution of work, citing virtual meetings, 3D holographic presentations, exhibitions — even use of digital twins to give customers the opportunity to try products before buying them.
“Many people are waiting around for hyped-up technologies like AR/VR etc. to come along and change this, but we believe that the right technologies already exist today and simply haven’t been leveraged correctly in a work context,” Hempton and Hather explained. “Younger generations are already interacting in meaningful ways and forming deep connections through alternative platforms like gaming.”
Spot’s founders believe in the value of social relationships, arguing that without such a sense of connection, trust becomes harder to build and engagement harder to nurture.
“I’ve also heard from a couple of users that they have a form of stage fright when doing videoconferencing, and by having an avatar, Spot makes them feel a lot more comfortable contributing to the conversation,” said Hempton.
The most successful customers are the ones who use these solutions in an always-on fashion, they told me. Team members stay inside the application throughout the day and use it as their primary means of communication, both for meetings as well as asynchronous team chat.
“This helps a lot with teams feeling together and gives a sense of presence… you can look up from your desk and see your colleagues working and having meetings,” they said.
Where are we going?
The future of work isn’t just a tech challenge, but an evolution of management style. Managers have been forced to adopt new approaches to handling remote teams, and presenteeism is slowly being supplanted by empathic management built around clearly defined and articulated goals.
“Being a manager got a lot harder for those who had to abruptly transition to remote environments,” Hempton and Hather said, arguing that use of these kinds of virtual environments may help managers become “a lot more intentional about the content of their regular meetings.”
While those using AR/VR technologies in the US tend to be early adopters, Spot’s leaders informed me that they are seeing much more mainstream adoption in those economies seen as already the most digital, principally in South Korea. “We believe these companies are on the leading edge of where things are headed,” they said.
Has your company made use of virtual collaborative environments? Are your business managers getting the support they need to manage hybrid, asynchronous teams to success? What have you learned about the future of work since the pandemic? Please let me know.
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