Business owners and entrepreneurs need to think beyond today's work-from-home and open-plan offices. In the not too distant future, knowledge workers in the smartest companies will work remotely from anywhere in the world and interact either in full virtual reality or via augmented reality, similar to this Microsoft prototype:
The technology to create this kind of VR/AR office workplace already exists. As the price inevitably drops and the tech itself becomes more convenient and transparent, the demand for such workplaces will explode, due to the following inexorable trends.
1. Increased public awareness of health risks.
The medical community has long pointed out that offices are inherently unsanitary and lead to the unnecessary spread of diseases. A single uncovered sneeze sprays droplets through an entire open-plan office, settling on things we touch every day but which are seldom cleaned, like keyboards, mouses, chair arm rests. AR/VR offices pose no health risk whatever, since you already have all of your germs.
2. Increased public awareness of carbon footprint.
An SUV commuting 10 miles a day for a year creates a whopping 3.5 tons of carbon footprint. A single flight from New York City to Silicon Valley to get everyone together in one place creates two to three tons of carbon footprint per employee transported. Offices themselves (especially big rooms with high ceilings) have enormous carbon footprints. With climate disasters looming, this is unsustainable. By contrast, VR/AR offices have a miniscule carbon footprint of one connected computer per person.
3. The growing backlash against open-plan offices.
While many CEOs are still gnawing the bone of a bankrupt concept, it's abundantly clear to anyone who's not been completely blinded by confirmation bias that open-plan offices are an unmitigated productivity disaster. Open-plan offices reduce rather than increase collaboration and, when you factor in the productivity loss, don't save any money, even in areas with sky-high office rentals. Unlike open-plan offices, VR/AR offices would actually increase collaboration and would cost a company, well, basically nothing.
4. The growing demand for ever-rarer skill sets.
Even in areas like Silicon Valley, it can be difficult or even impossible to find knowledge workers with specific skill set, and then you have to pay them ridiculous compensation because the cost of living is so high. With a VR/AR office, a company can recruit anyone from anywhere in the world, vastly increasing the pool of qualified candidates while vastly decreasing the amount of money that they need be paid.
5. The desire to finally eliminate workplace bias.
Offices in "meat space" are all about appearances. There is a persistent bias in hiring and promotion against women, minorities, those not conventionally attractive, and anyone who is in their 30s or older. Inside a VR/AR office, everyone can be represented by an avatar that may or may not resemble how that person actually appears. Bias based upon appearance becomes impossible because how a person appears is totally arbitrary.
The Takeaway: Due to this confluence of trends, in 10 years centralized offices (open-plan or not) will be like the phone booths, a thing that older people remember as once being useful but which have since become irrelevant, obsolete, and non-existent.
The Extra Mile: Start planning today for this massive shift in how you'll organize and locate teams. Move quickly to work-from-home or a hybrid of work-from-home and a traditional office. Consider early adoption of the technology as it becomes available.