Technologies that were a short time ago considered luxuries are quickly becoming necessities for the business community. Video conferencing, telecommuting, virtual and augmented reality spaces, and flexible work schedules are no longer perks offered by forward-thinking employers, they are working conditions expected by employees. Especially Millennial and Gen Z employees.
The two youngest generations in the U.S. workforce are still growing into their power as the future drivers of the economy, but once their wishes become the business world’s commands the modern office will look much different.
For example, a recent survey published in the Harvard Business Review found Millennials and Gen Z professionals and students think virtual reality will have the biggest impact on their working futures. The expectation of a virtual reality office puts pressure on employers, especially small business, to provide such technologies or miss out on the best recruits. So, how can a small business meet the technological expectations of young professionals? It starts with observing how smartphones have changed–and are continuing to change–our working culture.
Rise of the Digital Natives
That same survey, of 18,000 people across 19 countries, makes it clear that change is coming to the modern workplace. It found 70% of respondents thought a company’s digital capabilities were important, but only 40% found their current employer met those expectations.
What makes the switch to digital even more important is the fact the generations set to become key employees are also going to be the most important customers. The Millennial generation is the biggest in U.S. history, and will soon become the richest once they inherit a $30 trillion fortune from their elders over the next 25 years.
Essentially, what this generation is asking for is that the technologies they have grown up with–connected, mobile, instant communications like social media and video conferencing–follow them into the business world. If a small business takes that logical extension as its starting point, rather than seeing virtual reality and the like as massive technological leaps, it’s much easier to see how the transition can be made.
The Connected Office
The defining technology of the Millennial and Gen Z generations is the smartphone. More than 80% say their phone never leaves their side, and around the same number say it’s the first thing they reach for upon waking each morning. More than half say they need constant connection to the internet, even when traveling.
The reason is obvious–smartphones are directly connected to every aspect of our lives. They provide work emails, instant messaging, face-to-face video calls, links to news and online shopping, driving directions, and more.
Even a small business can replicate this kind of central hub at work by using the rising number of workflow programs that turn an employee’s computer screen into a multimedia connection. Slack is the current app of choice, and its ability to combine instant messaging with video calling, scheduling, file sharing, and constant communication across professional groups is already being mimicked by much larger companies such as Microsoft which developed its own version of Slack called Skype Teams. These platforms place the employee at the center of their own working world, where they can attend a group video conference with the boss as easily as they can instantly ask a colleague about their weekend.
Just as the Slack experience is an extension of smartphone culture, the virtual reality office is the next logical step up from these centralized work hubs.
The Virtual Reality Office
In a way, virtual reality is just a digital representation of the real world. It still contains all the same information of that centralized Slack office, but it strips away the physical dimension and immerses your employees directly in the data.
Virtual reality specialists Altspace VR are already building wholly digital worlds for work and play. Within the app, each user takes the form of a cartoonish digital avatar, who moves through and interacts with their surroundings using head gestures powered by virtual reality goggles.
In current practice, it looks like this:
Don’t worry about the clumsy graphics at this point, those will improve as 3D scanning technologies get better at copying real human faces and bodies and pinning them to digital avatars. What’s important is that every one of those little robots is a real person, and everyone can talk and share with everyone else–like video conferencing within a virtual reality.
Further, any file you can store on your computer can be visually displayed on the walls and on the avatars within this world. It’s not hard to imagine that shortly these VR worlds will be able to contain links to the wider web, creating the illusion of having stepped inside a smartphone, with every app available at the tap of a virtual hand.
Crucially, these technologies are aimed and priced at the business community. Slack costs less than $7 a month per user, and the Altspace VR software functions on commercially available VR headsets. Even advanced webcams that include facial recognition and infrared camera techare now available for around $200.
So even a small business may soon be able to supply the virtual reality demands of Millennial and Generation Z employees. In fact, it will make for a more efficient, streamlined office experience that could benefit all employees regardless of their age.