Your New Virtual Office: Augmented Realty in the Workplace

Augmented-reality workspaces will transform the way you do your job, and you won’t look weird doing it. At all.

Next time you get a promotion at work, don’t agitate for the corner office. You won’t need it. Pretty soon, your office will be as big and messy and private as you like, because you’ll be the only one who can see it.

The early days of virtual and augmented reality have focused mostly on gaming, but Pokémon Go and Superhot are just a tiny part of how you’ll ultimately use smart glasses once they’re capable enough—and unobtrusive enough—to fit on our faces and into our lives. Most of the people developing mixed-reality tech think the venue where AR will really thrive is the workplace.

Picture it: You get to the office, grab a keyboard off the shelf (because air typing still sucks), and find an open space. You log in to your glasses, and your entire workspace appears in front of you. To your right is a shelf stocked with all the apps and bookmarks you use every day. You reach over and grab one, place it on the floor, and the full-scale CAD model of the car you were designing pops into place. Pinned to the wall are all your digital notes, arranged in exactly the way you left them last night. To your left hover six virtual screens displaying browser windows, stock tickers, and Twitter. You ask Siri to pull up your email, and your inbox appears. You can see everything, but all anyone else sees is you, wearing glasses that look like standard Warby Parkers, typing on a keyboard and reaching around in the air. (This is considered socially acceptable-­ish, somehow.) When you really need to focus, you flip on Occluded Mode to turn off the world around you, diving into a black hole of virtual productivity.

It’s going to take a while, but augmented reality will completely reshape the way we work. Even the first phase—simply layering digital information and objects over the real world—will enable you to do your job faster and more efficiently. Big companies like Facebook and Microsoft, startups like Meta and Magic Leap, and even decidedly non–Silicon Valley companies like Boeing and Bosch are building the hardware and software for the AR workplace. They’re also grappling with what happens in the second phase of AR work, once we’re all comfortable enough in the virtual office to not worry about old metaphors of “documents” and “files,” once meetings become multiplayer games and interoffice memos are more like digital stickies automatically plastered on everyone’s desk. That’s when things really change: Just as ubiquitous cameras led to Instagram and always-on GPS begat Uber, we’ll come up with completely new ways to get things done when we’re always inside an AR display.

The idea of an office full of people absorbed in AR might seem isolating, but collaboration could actually improve. Working together in mixed reality lets you share information in more useful ways than with email and Slack. (There will still be the need to meet face to face—though maybe just for coffee.) All you’ll need is a pair of glasses and enough space to wiggle your arms. Oh, and good practice at whatever body movements communicate “Gosh, I’m working hard on this very important and business-­related task!” You know, just in case the boss walks by.


This article appears in the February issue. Subscribe now.

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