The future is one where remote workers are better off than those working on-premises and where you can instantly travel to a meeting any place in the world without feeling at a disadvantage.
At Microsoft Inspire last month Microsoft showcased its Holoportation advancements, which are not yet in wide use. Holoportation promises a future where a digital conference and a physical conference swap places as the ideal way to collaborate by providing a physical-like experience, using avatars, but with the full capability of digital simulation.
Once this solution matures and develops advanced ways to instrument the user's body; you'll easily do more things in a virtual conference than you could if you'd physically traveled to the meeting.
Eventually, the prediction is that we will fully pivot to virtual technology - It will simply make more sense to pick up a mixed reality headset and instantly join a meeting regardless of whether it is across the hall or on the other side of the planet.
Using remote robots, even the need to physically interact with things at a remote location could be mitigated, and the foundation for traveling to the office eliminated. You could even create environments where people gather around rendered water coolers for interpersonal conversations (something that remote workers often lament they miss out on).
In this future world, the need for most business travel would be eliminated, thereby increasing worker safety, removing travel downtime, and potentially reducing the stress on the employee.
Balancing enabler tech with work-life
One thing we have learned from our pandemic adventure is that working from home has done ugly things to the work-life balance. As a result, if we implement Microsoft's Holoportation solution without some way to monitor employee impact and assure work-life balance, that balance and our employees' health and welfare will decline.
With Microsoft, you get the tool that allows you to instantly travel anyplace in the world with benefits over actually being there physically, but the responsibility rests with the employer to ensure that employees benefit from this change and don't work themselves to death instead.
For this effort to graduate to a more encompassing virtual workspace, we need both the virtual tools that Microsoft is developing and actively utilise employee development tools. Otherwise, the result will either not provide the quality of experience people need in a virtual meeting or the tools necessary to assure that the employee truly benefits from the change and isn't otherwise harmed.
This extended pandemic had one colossal silver lining: it forced us to honestly look at our conferencing technology and begin to evolve it to make physical travel obsolete.
But to do that, we don't just need to advance the mixed reality capability to emulate better real life; we also have to instrument the people using the solution so that we can help them become better employees and assure that this shift to digital interaction helps and doesn't hurt them long term.
By addressing both the physical and human aspects of the solution thoroughly, we open up the potential to create virtual companies where people are safer, more engaged, more effective, and by most measures happier than they ever were in physical offices. Only then can we approach the full potential of our new simulated workplace future.