In the 19th century, the world was wrought with scarlet fever, smallpox, and typhus. In the 20th century, it was the bubonic plague. The 21st century seems to be following a similar pattern with the outbreak of the coronavirus, because where humans are involved, disease is sure to abound. 2020 was a year of many highs and lows for the modern history books. There were many similarities between the Covid 19 pandemic, and the ones faced in the past. The world over ground to a halt. Businesses closed because employees couldn't work. With the onset of the pandemic, there were record high anxiety issues and record low morale. But there are a few key differences between the pandemics of the past and the one we face in the last few years. One difference between now and then is accurate knowledge of how to stop the spread of germs. Another is how to stay connected and thrive in a world that has largely shut down.
XR technology has played a big part in making pandemic-proof workspaces a reality. Even though some businesses found their end during the pandemic, a lot thrived. Those who thrived were already ahead of the game using social media and other technologies, like extended reality- real and virtual environments generated by computer technology and wearables to facilitate human/machine interactions - to continue to meet their customer's and businesses needs while adhering to government orders to stay at home. Business owners developed, expanded, and utilized every tool at their disposal to keep moving in a world that had told them to stop. They saw an opportunity for growth where others saw a stagnant pool. Now they're taking extended reality technology and applying it to their businesses in savvy ways to ensure that they never have to tread water again.
1. Pandemic Problems
A pandemic refers to the global spreadability of a disease or illness, typically a new strain, sometimes a new illness entirely. They come on fast and hit hard, taking the world by surprise. While we scrambled before to make beneficial choices, here are some problems that businesses faced and how extended reality solves them.
On working from home and focus- Working from home had a detrimental effect on work environments. Most office workers are there because it's what's been done for decades. Centuries ago, people were faced with options like, work and get sick and die, or stay home, stay healthy, but starve because nobody can work so nobody gets food. Few people had the luxury of working from home. As the most recent pandemic drew on, employers really took a look at what groups of people were necessary to have in an office setting. After some deliberation, many realized that having dozens of people in small office cubicles just wasn't needed.
Some people have been permanently sent home to work, which is awesome, but it does create a communication divide. Where before one person could turn around and ask a coworker how to complete a specific task, now there's an empty chair. But with the use of virtual or mixed reality, collaboration can continue better than before.
For those still at work- What about creating a space at work where employees feel that their healthcare needs are being met, enabling them to work in a safe environment? When considering a pandemic where an illness has rapid spreadability, it's impossible not to take into consideration the health of those who can't social distance like healthcare workers. Most people don't have a quiet workspace at home where they can focus and get work done. Many have kids or family members with high needs and a low social consideration. And what about the customers, for which most businesses were created? How does XR technology help them?
2. How XR Technology Solves the Problem
Using the three different types of extended reality technology, savvy business owners were able to implement different simple strategies to keep working, each doing their part to keep the country running.
On working from home - XR technology presents a unique space in which coworkers can view shared files in a virtual setting in real time, so progress doesn't have to come to a halt until they're ready. With a variety of options and ways to work, each project can be done in record time in the comfort of one's home.
With virtual reality, a subset of extended reality involving a virtual field and headsets, coworkers can focus better on the work at hand. Rather than slogging through work, employees can get more done in less time with less mental fatigue, creating a better work environment and relationships.
VR is especially helpful when considering the travel bans that might become more common. Cross country meetings don't have to be cancelled. Using mixed reality, attendees can still be valuable contributors in company events.
For those still at work - Imaging you were one of those lucky souls who got to stay at work, because for some, staying home proved to be detrimental to their mental health. There were still things they had to deal with, like daily health screenings, lack of focus, social distancing, etc. Some companies had to shut down simply because of the lack of employees capable of working at a job site because of their own health concerns. In order to keep the employees safe and healthy, distance was still necessary. But for some fields, like healthcare, distance was impossible. Virtual and augmented reality make an easy-to-use diagnostic tool, enabling those who aren't necessary to stay home, ensuring the health and safety of the whole.
The customer relationship - Many businesses failed simply because the customers couldn't come into the offices for consultations or standard shopping. Augmented reality is perhaps the best way to serve an absentee customer. Augmented reality is the practice of overlaying digital images onto a physical space in order to enhance the space around them. Say a customer was redesigning their living room and using a consulting company to get the job done. Social distancing could still be respected by using augmented or even mixed reality to plan out the changes, and when it came time for the job to be completed, the customer could easily let the workers have the space for the day. Augmented reality has already become a huge part of social media marketing for cosmetic, graphic design, and clothing companies. For many of them, it was the difference between life and death for the company when customers couldn't go into a store physically.
3. Making Your Workplace Pandemic-Proof
Pandemics can be scary. There's no telling when they're going to happen or how bad they will be. Will it be necessary to social distance again? Or completely isolate ourselves from the rest of the community the way it was done before? Regardless of how or when it happens, XR technology gives us options. From cross country (or town) meetings with virtual reality headsets, to utilizing augmented reality for customer engagement, we're one step closer to making pandemic-proof workspaces a reality. The 2020s are off to a rocky start, but with the experience and knowledge we've gained through the years, XR technology has largely guaranteed that even though illness may arise businesses won't just survive. They'll thrive.
About the Author: Anna Taylor
Anna Taylor is a freelance writer and avid researcher- a jack of all trades, but a master of none. She graduated from the University of Hawai'i with an Associates Degree in Liberal Arts because she had no idea what she wanted to be when she grew up. She has since found her love of Extended Reality and the possibilities it brings to the world, as well as gardening, cooking, and writing. Anna lives in Interior Alaska with her family.