people in a store with a variety of virtual reality gear on
PHOTO: stephan sorkin

The workplace has evolved to allow for more mobile, flexible work styles. Meeting rooms increasingly sit unused as employees embrace virtual distributed teams, turning to rich multimedia collaboration which is accessible anywhere, on any device. The leaps forward in modern mobility and collaboration technologies have paved the way for another turning point in how employees work and collaborate: augmented and virtual reality. 

Augmented reality has been used in specialized situations since the early '90s. Its capabilities range from superimposing digital elements onto physical reality (i.e. placing virtual objects within real-world backgrounds on cell phone screens), to a fully immersive experience that replaces sight, hearing and even touch with a digitally created and interactive virtual reality. More immersive scenarios typically use headgear, glasses, finger or trigger devices, or spatial gesture sensors.

Given the massive improvements in computing power, video graphics processing, artificial intelligence and digital sensors, there are many new and exciting ways AR can bring the workforce of the future into a new frontier of “augmented collaboration” — the intersection and synergy of both team collaboration and augmented reality capabilities. The following outlines five potential real-world scenarios where this type of collaboration is already having and will continue to have influence on the modern workforce.

Augmented Reality Lets Customers Take Products for a Test Drive

One exciting opportunity for augmented reality is collaborating with customers. For example, Lowe’s released a vision navigation application to allow customers to efficiently navigate its stores, enabling customers to locate products two times faster than those without the application. 

Looking ahead, a travel agent could offer a customer an immersive and interactive tour through a resort, allowing them to virtually visit the lobby, guest rooms, the pool and the beach. If customers don’t have the time to physically test drive a range of automobiles, the buyer’s journey can be expedited through virtual, immersive test drives of different models (from the comfort of the customer’s home).

Related Article: How Consumer Tech Paves the Way for B2B Evolution

AR Can Transform Critical Response Management

Imagine a public emergency, crowd control or hazardous situation where a response management team must quickly understand, assess and address what's happening. Here, multiple guided drones could be deployed to capture and assemble a visualization of the entire situation. Through AR, the response team can be physically remote yet still provide immediate feedback and direction or they can choose to bring in specialized experts. 

Some environments where AR technology can be applied include universities, sports stadiums and convention centers. This approach also minimizes unnecessary risk in dangerous situations which prove either impractical or too dangerous for team members to attend in person.

Related Article: How 5G Will Impact Augmented and Virtual Reality Use

Sit Down With Colleagues, Wherever They Are

Augmented reality will place employees side-by-side at the table with remote colleagues, regardless if they’re at home, sitting in the airport or on their mobile phone.

Study after study shows that an engaged team is a productive and creative team. The best way in the modern workplace to bring people together, interact naturally and share a common experience is to bring everyone to the same virtual table, even if they work around the world. Here, an employee may be represented by a realistic 3-D avatar representing their upper body, head and hands. Their face and hand gestures can be communicated, and they can whiteboard or interact collectively with holographic objects. Other uses for AR include allowing a distributed team to jointly examine a new product packaging concept, or virtually experience a proposed conference exhibit layout.

Related Article: Want to Improve Your Next Meeting? Remove the Table

Place Remote Training and Support Experts in the Field With Service Members

Another interesting example where AR can be applied relates to field service, repair or diagnostics where complex or novel situations emerge. By using AR glasses with embedded cameras, a remote expert can see what the field engineer is seeing in real-time, offer advice and even overlay illustrations or markings as guidance. 

Likewise, in more routine situations, AR can potentially offer similar real-time guidance to field personnel in a more automated way. Recent examples include Fieldbit’s recent partnership with the Agfa-Gevaert Group to allow collaboration between the frontline workforce in remote locations and subject matter experts in real time, as well as Unilever’s work with ScopeAR to reduce downtime and streamline remote work between technicians and experts. For each, AR brings the opportunity to significantly improve the quality and efficiency of field service.

Experience Design, Development and Prototyping Virtually

Rather than dealing with physical (and not easily changed) prototypes, a project team can examine, interact with and share a common “walk around” experience via a virtual twin. Ford Motor Company is a good example of this per new car development, where Ford creates virtual reality-based prototypes in the early design stages. Boeing has also used this technology to display 3-D diagrams to help assist in the wiring of its aircrafts. You can imagine many other situations where this could be used by teams, such as walking through a redesigned retail point-of-sale customer experience, or exploring a new manufacturing floor layout that can be easily evaluated and modified as a virtual model.

The above reflects a small sampling of the innovative new ways teams can benefit from augmented collaboration. The rapid development and intersection of AI and the Internet of Things with augmented reality will ultimately lead to many more exciting scenarios and revolutionary ways for teams to collaborate in the not-so-distant future, especially with the news that Apple and Facebook’s AR headsets will arrive as soon as early 2020. 

It’s not too early to begin thinking about and planning your augmented collaboration strategies — where could augmented reality improve your day-to-day operations?