A man holding up a VR headset.
PHOTO: Fabrice Florin

Move over, smartphone. You’ll have company in the workplace next decade. 

AR/VR headsets will be as common as smartphones in the workplace by 2029, according to 55% of the 1,000 or so workers who took a Mojo Vision survey on AR/VR in the workplace. “That itself is telling us that people are looking out for the future and realizing that the form factors are shifting, and they will be doing work in a different way,” Steve Sinclair, senior vice president of product and marketing at Mojo Vision, told CMSWire. “They'll be collaborating in a different way and using different tools, and that's OK.” 

That's a bold statement comparing AR/VR headsets to smartphones? Does this seems far off from other industry reports about the rise of AR/VR in the workplace? Not really.

Commercial Sector to See AR/VR Growth

The commercial sectors will lead an uptick in spending on AR/VR solutions, according to a report last month by the International Data Corporation (IDC). The IDC reported that commercial sectors will see their combined share of overall spending growth from less than 50% in 2020 to 68.8% in 2023. Consumer spending on AR/VR is still greater than any single enterprise industry ($7.0 billion in 2020). However, it will grow at a much slower pace (39.5% CAGR). 

What does that mean for the enterprise? It may be time to start thinking of ways AR/VR can have actual practical outcomes for employees and companies. Giulia Carosella, research analyst at the IDC, said in a release the focus on VR/AR use cases “is shifting from talking about technology benefits to showing real and measurable business outcomes, including productivity and efficiency gains, knowledge transfer, employee's safety, and more engaging customer experiences.”

Related Article: Extended Reality: The Next Wave in Workplace Transformation

Privacy, Comfort Challenges

But let’s call this a cautious excitement for AR/VR. Because for the technology to be widely adopted, workers say issues like user comfort, privacy and device distraction will need to be addressed, according to the report by Mojo Vision. More than half of workers (58%) are concerned about their privacy when using the technology. Another 49% said that comfort would be an issue if they had to wear headsets for extended periods of time, and they would feel awkward using these devices around coworkers.

Comfort and privacy aren’t the only challenges for AR/VR adoption. A recent Augmented and Virtual Reality Trends Survey found technology challenges including the price of manufacturing AR/VR devices and limitations of AR/VR-specific and consumer devices. “A lot of progress needs to be made,” Sinclair said. “And that also was surfaced by the report: usability and comfort and just general satisfaction are going to be keys to adoption. And right now, current AR/VR hardware doesn't seem to meet those standards. And so there's more work to be done by those that are building these types of tools. Because they have to be very aware of what workers care about, and workers care about privacy.”

And wearing a headset or something on their face for an extended period of time in the workplace may not be the most comfortable thing to do. “And then there's just the social acceptance factor out there; they feel awkward using these devices around coworkers,” Sinclair added. “So there's a lot of work to be done to, again, for these devices to go to a form factor where they look natural and normal, and allow you to get access to that information whenever you need it, yet still be engaged in the real world with the people around you.”

Workers See an AR/VR Future

Still workers see AR/VR in their future. Some other findings from that Mojo Vision report that surveyed over 1,000 workers include:

  • 75% of workers have never used AR/VR headsets or similar devices on the job.
  • 78% say they are open to using the emerging technology if asked by their employers.
  • 48% of workers think AR/VR headsets or similar devices could help them learn new skills at work.
  • 45% percent believe that future workplace technology will be less visible and operate more in the background, allowing workers to focus on their tasks or the people in front of them, and not on their interaction with technology.
  • 42% think screens will be replaced by new displays, such as smart glasses, contact lenses, headsets, etc.
  • 52% of workers think that their desktop computer is the most important tool for their daily job. But in 10 years, 49% of them think that they'll be using something else.

Shift to Worker-Desired Tech

Sinclair told CMSWire IT in the past would commonly roll out technology in the workforce and would wait for its efficacy based on usability. Now, he said, workers are driving the technology adoption in the enterprise. And that’s what happening with tech like AR/VR: they have it in the consumer world and are going to want it at work. For AR/VR to be successful in the enterprise, employees will need to be the ones to embrace adoption and decide if it's worthwhile, according to Sinclair.  “We have definitely found that consumer tech is influencing worker preferences,” Sinclair told CMSWire. “It’s kind of flipping things on its head. We are certainly seeing that digital natives in the workforce are becoming very accustomed to using the latest technology. They're used to using it on their phone. They're used to using it at home. And they're the ones who are starting to pull it in for the workforce as well.”

Related Article: AR and VR Could Be Mainstream Sooner Than You Think

Goodbye Common Work Screens?

Will workers’ current screens to do their work be replaced by new display in the form of smart glasses, contact lenses, goggles or other body-worn wearable? Time will tell. But 42% think these current screens will be replaced by these new displays.

Sinclair finds that potential phenomenon interesting because it means workers are thinking beyond just the current form factors that they have today. “They're looking forward to what they're going to be able to do with them, the new skills, the fact that it’s going to make it easier for them to communicate,” Sinclair said, “not only with the people in other locations, but maybe across languages and cultures.”