About GenslerOnWork

GenslerOnWork examines the modern workplace and how design can help us become more engaged and productive as we earn our livings.

Search GenslerOn
Work Topics
Connect with Us
« Tech Trends of 2016: 3D Printing | Main | An Inconvenient Truth for the UK Workplace? »

Tech Trends of 2016: Virtual Reality, No Longer Sci-fi

Image © Gensler

Editor’s note: this blog is part of a series on 2016 tech trends.

The future is here. Virtual Reality technologies are revolutionizing industries across the spectrum, including commerce, communications, travel and education. We are living in a world where the only true limitation is our imaginations. In this week’s post, we explore how virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality will impact future workplaces and the process of designing and creating the necessary alternative work environments to support this new way of collaborating.

Virtual Reality is No Longer Sci-fi

After many false starts since the 1980s, Virtual Reality is finally here (for real this time), and it brings the potential to be as transformative as the birth of the Internet. Recently launched tech products are enabling digitally immersive experiences and bringing to life what was once only science fiction. Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) are now mainstream technologies. Products such as the Oculus Rift specialize in VR, which completely immerses a user in a simulated world. Hologram technology, such as the Hololens or Meta devices, embrace both VR and AR to create MR, which overlays digital holograms on top of your real world. Users are able to interact with digital information without being limited to the confines of screens or input devices. With built-in sensors, headgear allows “real-life” interaction with the digital environment through eye-gazing, gesturing, and voice commands. It’s expanding rapidly and across all industries.

Virtual Reality creates an entirely new, digitally immersive platform that will impact all industries. Image © YakobchukOlena – stock.adobe.com

Tech companies on a global scale are eager to not only leverage this new, open platform to create business opportunities and expand the capabilities (and usability) of VR and holograms, but they’re also using it as a tool to improve productivity in the workplace. Technology is already being pioneered to conduct remote collaborative experiences that go (way) beyond today’s video conferencing and telepresence to create a 3D, immersive experience that offers more engaging collaboration using virtual and mixed reality.

In the near future, we can anticipate new meeting rooms designed specifically to accommodate virtual hologram meetings or virtual simulations shared among a globally dispersed audience. An internal team meeting may no longer be around a conference table, but instead standing in a circle, all viewing the same 3D virtual world. But will MR eventually replace the physical workstation? As gestures and voice commands allow you to interact with your digital workspace and collaborate with partners virtually, there is no need for a monitor, phone or keyboard. If so, workplace design is in for a radical shift as the nature of collaboration and focus work goes from physical to virtual.

Workplace design is in for a radical shift as the nature of collaboration and focus work goes from physical to virtual. Image © Gensler

Digitally immersive experiences are also set to revolutionize creative industries, from product design to construction. Advancements in platform software are allowing engineers, designers and fabricators to collaborate, iterate, prototype and present their ideas more rapidly. Clients are able to visualize and approve designs more easily. Production decisions will be made with more confidence before fabrication or construction when visualizing prototypes in 3D. It may only be a matter of time before virtual and mixed realities replace the static renderings as the expected standard for design communication and presentation.

Contributors: Doug Wittnebel, Ryan Cook, Devan Porter

Brian is a studio director in Gensler’s San Jose office and a leader of the firm’s Northwest Region Technology Practice Area Committee. An architect, Brian’s focus is on workplace design projects for some of the Bay Area’s top technology companies. Contact him at brian_corbett@gensler.com.