The last year has been a challenge for everyone, uprooting the very foundation of the way we live our lives. We’ve had to adapt to running our lives entirely from home, without the escapes we had taken for granted before.

It’s incredible to consider that in 2019, remote working was still in its infancy, steadily being introduced at a snail’s pace across companies around the world. For so long we heard the same theoretical criticisms such as reduced output, waning motivation and flimsy communication that would be the end of a company foolish to introduce remote working. But, much like a parachute jump, the first step is the scariest, and in doing so discovered that maybe the office isn’t so necessary after all. The pandemic gave us all an ultimatum – to evolve in the wake of the terrible circumstances that have swept the globe.

Web chats and video calls have been an important part of our working and social lives for a long time, but throughout this year they have been vital in making sure we can communicate with friends, family and colleagues. Businesses around the world discovered that it was possible to  keep our working world going from home, but we quickly realised that something was missing.

A big challenge was how to shake the old ways of thinking – for example, meetings would face the exact same structure and style despite everything else being different. Video call fatigue and loneliness have been a troubling result for many who have found this year hard to adjust to. Based on our research in a China market survey, 81% of those surveyed suggested that video calls were not an effective replacement, lacking immersion and citing unnatural interactions. However, almost paradoxically, data suggests people are not yet ready to return to a physical workspace.

We also conducted research in the UK, into what the office worker is experiencing at this time of ambiguity. Out of a thousand surveyed UK workers, three quarters (74%) are worried about the risks of returning to work before confirmation of the vaccine, despite nearly half (47%) craving more face-to-face meetings and human interaction to break the monotony of video calls. 

Combine this with a workforce that has also seen great benefits of working from home, such as considerably increased savings and more personal time, and the problems facing 2021 are apparent. How can you ask your team to return to an office with such concerns and the prospect of losing valuable benefits? The solution as we see it, lies in the hands of the growing maturity of remote collaboration technology.

Within our survey, we heard that over half (58%) of respondents were interested and open to using new technology in the workplace. Naturally, we have grown to trust alternative ways of working after this year, seeing the results of radical changes come to fruition. The uptake of technology during the pandemic has redefined how we communicate with our colleagues, helping workplaces survive and thrive. So it’s time to take the next step.

Virtual Reality has advanced significantly in recent years, providing life-like and immersive digital worlds for us to lose ourselves in, but most people tend to think of VR as exclusive tools for games or films.  But VR has also been growing in the business world. In VR, users can have a physical presence, they are able to interact and re-establish what is lost in staring at a 2D video of a colleague. In a 2020 study from Xinzhuo Labs, it was found that simply by providing a 3D VR environment with user avatars, the efficiency of a work group was comparable to one in a face to face setting. Using VR platforms, users were able to experience higher work efficiency and satisfaction than video platforms.  It is only set to develop further, as the technology evolves and new applications are found.

VR is the symbol of the future, stripping back the limitations of the real world, but in practice it is becoming a vital tool in the future of work. A conference can be held in VR for a fraction of a cost. You can meet an international client and shake their hand without having to travel and you can train team members in otherwise hazardous scenarios at no risk. As we enter this new working revolution, the possibilities can be truly endless.

HTC Vive has  spent many years investing and developing in this space, and we’ve always believed that VR has the potential to change the way we work.. There is always room to grow and develop, but we are excited at the prospect, and hope that the working world’s interest in new solutions will only further VR’s integration into the workplace

The office as we know it is changing, and it’s time for new technology to fill the gap. 2021 may force us to endure new challenges, but we can confidently trust in technology to thrive in a changing world. 

General Manager, HTC EMEA

Graham Wheeler, is the current General Manager of HTC EMEA. Graham is based in HTC’s European headquarters near London. In his role he oversees HTC’s growing European business across its virtual reality content, software and hardware ecosystem. As part of HTC’s global innovation vision Graham oversees HTC’s entire product portfolio including the recently launched 5G Hub. 

Graham joined HTC in 2005, becoming the fourth employee in the European office and has now been with the company for 13 years. Graham has served in a number of roles across HTC’s European product, engineering and service teams, before heading up operations across the smartphone and VIVE business.