Is the US workforce ready for a virtual reality workplace?

Virtual Reality Workspace
Virtual Reality Workspace

The way in which we work has changed dramatically in recent years. A growing trend towards remote working was accelerated quite significantly by the advent of Covid-19 and the social distancing policies brought about to curb its spread, with many businesses choosing not to go back to traditional arrangements even as the world began to reopen its doors. 

The U.S. Census Bureau revealed that between 2019 and 2021, the number of people primarily working from home tripled from 5.7% (roughly 9 million people) to 17.9%. 

There’s now no denying the fact that remote working is here to stay. In fact, many companies that had never considered the concept before are bringing in new arrangements designed to better facilitate teamwork and collaboration from any location. 

The takeup of technology designed to boost the capabilities of remote workers has skyrocketed as a result, with vast numbers of forward-thinking organisations now on the lookout for the next big thing in collaborative software. And it looks as though virtual reality has the answer. Enter virtual reality workplaces. 

Virtual reality workplaces have the potential to transform the possibilities of remote work. But along with some incredible benefits, they do present a fair few challenges. One of the key concerns in the delivery of virtual reality workplaces is the sheer volume of data that will be required to run them. Such technology will necessitate enormous data centers, with mind boggling capabilities – the likes of which we’ve never seen before. So, is it possible? And if it is, when might virtual reality workplaces become the norm? 

What is a virtual reality workplace?

Virtual reality (VR) is now being used as an effective tool for enhancing collaboration between teams. 

Not only is virtual reality fantastic for collaboration, it can also be used to deliver complex employee training programmes, improve recruitment processes, boost employee retention and smooth out onboarding processes for new team members. 

Through virtual reality, teams are coming together from remote offices all over the country, and they’re working harmoniously as one no matter how far apart they really are. 

But is the world really ready for virtual reality workplaces? The team at TRG Datacenters wanted to find out. 

To answer this question, and many others surrounding the idea of virtual reality workplaces, TRG Datacenters conducted consumer research to find out how professionals feel about the issue. The team surveyed 2,000 US employees aged from 18 to over 65, in locations all over the US. Here’s what they found. 

Awareness of the virtual workplace concept 

Virtual reality workplaces are a relatively new concept, which is why many of those surveyed had never even heard of them. But of the professionals surveyed, almost half (49%) were well aware of the concept and knew exactly what we meant by the term virtual reality workplace. 

Of those who were less clear on the definition, almost a third (30%) knew what it was but did not know how it would work. Just 20% of respondents had no idea what it was. 

There was a marked difference in awareness of virtual reality workplaces across age groups. The youngest demographic (18-24) was most aware of what we meant by virtual reality workplaces. In this group, 71% knew exactly what the concept meant and understood how it could work, and 26% knew what it was but not how it might work.

Most believe a virtual reality workplace would be beneficial 

The potential benefits of virtual reality workplaces are numerous, and vary from business to business depending on how VR could be used by their teams. 

The professionals surveyed by TRG Datacenters were hugely positive about what VR workplaces could bring to their own companies, with 76% stating that they believed a ‘virtual reality workspace’ would be beneficial where they currently work. 

Professionals aged between 18 and 24 were the most positive about virtual reality workplaces. In this demographic, 90% stated that they could already see the benefits of virtual reality workplaces, without even trying them out for themselves. 

Levels of enthusiasm around virtual reality workplaces were highest for the youngest demographic throughout the US, but those in the north east responded most positively. Here, 80% agreed that VR workplaces would be beneficial. In the Southwest, respondents were less unanimous but still overwhelmingly positive, with 61% stating that they could see how VR workplaces might be advantageous.  

How far do professionals trust the idea of virtual reality workplaces? 

The introduction of new technology designed to be used for information sharing will always come with a level of risk attached. 

Companies handling sensitive data must always be on the lookout for emerging security risks, and it’s possible that virtual reality workplaces could present a challenge from a security perspective, in some cases. 

Levels of trust in virtual reality workplaces vary across demographics, with some groups far 

more trusting of new technology than others. 

Overall, 56% of professionals stated that they would trust a virtual reality workspace when discussing confidential or private information at work. However, this figure slips down to 44% when we look at the 55-64 age group. In this group, fewer professionals would be happy to discuss sensitive information via VR, instead opting for more traditional secure channels. 

Compare sentiment amongst older demographics to the youngest, though, and you’ll find a much higher level of trust in younger professionals. Employees in Generation Z were much more open to the idea of using VR to discuss confidential information, with 82% of respondents in this age group stating that they would confidently do so. 

Primary concerns around virtual reality workplaces and their delivery

This survey found respondents were overwhelmingly positive about the idea of virtual reality workplaces and the potential benefits of them. However, there were a number of valid concerns around how the use of VR might impact employees and businesses. 

Primary concerns noted in this survey included worry about technical problems affecting the capabilities of employees, with issues like internet connection (37%) and security (33%) cropping up frequently. 

Professionals were also concerned about increases in digital fatigue (29%) and a potential rise in working hours/screen time (30%). Other issues noted included the question of increased isolation due to rises in remote work (28%), confusion over set ups (23%) and the gamification of work (23%). 

The data requirements of virtual reality workplaces 

We’ve touched on the impact that virtual reality workplaces might have on data centers, but it’s important to explore this issue in more detail as it could well present one of the biggest challenges to the delivery of this brilliantly innovative technology. 

The 360-degree video applications that will be used in virtual reality workplaces are data hungry. These applications consume incredible amounts of data in a short space of time, so running them throughout the working week for businesses all over the globe could prove difficult. 

All Metaverse technologies tend to be resource-intensive. And that will mean significant changes for digital infrastructure in the future. While the potential of these new technologies is unparalleled, there’s no denying the fact that that they will require huge amounts of investment to ensure their accessibility on the world stage. 

A handful of companies have already begun investing in infrastructure to cement their positions as one of the first providers of such cutting edge technology. Meta, for example, plans to build an $800 million data center in Kuna, Idaho. The project will add vital infrastructure to support the company’s future metaverse. We’ve seen similar news from gaming and metaverse platform Roblox, too. The company recently announced that it will be investing in infrastructure improvements, to avoid outages like the 73-hour one that hit the platform in October 2022. 

Look out for more announcements from some of the biggest names in tech over the coming months and years. As the capabilities of technology improve, the level of infrastructure required to support them will expand considerably. Companies looking to stay ahead of the game are already looking at ways to extend their capabilities, with many investing considerable sums in development and infrastructure as they plan for the future. 

Research completed by TRG Datacenters shows that, overall, employees are very open to the idea of new technology such as virtual reality workplaces. The survey found that professionals feel positive about the benefits of such setups and can see how the technology could streamline processes at their own companies. So, watch this space, because it looks like virtual reality workplaces could well be the next big thing in remote work.