How virtual reality could soon help coworkers stay in touch anywhere

The promise of virtual or augmented reality to help colleagues collaborate wherever they are is huge—but it’s going to be a few years yet

Man wearing a VR headseat

(Portrait by Justin Poulsen)

I’m curious about how virtual and augmented reality devices might help me manage my employees. Should I be investing now?

“Training in a virtual world can be almost as good as training on a real piece of equipment,” says Brian Blau, a San Francisco–based research vice-president at Gartner who specializes in immersive technologies. “Look at astronauts: There’s exactly one space station, and it’s in space and not accessible to anybody. So they use virtual reality (VR) to train for tasks they’ll do on the space station. It really becomes an efficient and cost-effective way to train. Augmented reality (AR) and VR can create more personal interactions, which are important.

“I spoke to a CEO who started communicating with remote workers using immersive technology to feel more in touch. Seeing one another up close and in 3D made him feel closer to his employees and vice versa. That can make a big difference for productivity and morale. Still, today there are many businesses that probably don’t need AR or VR, mostly because it’s expensive. It costs $1,000 to $2,000 to outfit each employee with one of the cheapest headmounted devices. But in five to 10 years, once the technology becomes less expensive and easier to integrate, the general thought is that head-mounted devices will be a common as smartphones are today, even among small businesses. That’s just going to take time.”