Alternative Realities & The Future Of Work

PwC’s Global Construction 2030 report forecasts that the volume of construction output will grow by 85% to just over £11 trillion worldwide by 2030 ($15.5 trillion USD). But how will it increase so dramatically amid an economic churning that seems to be signalling a downturn? 

Well, unsurprisingly, technology seems to be where everyone’s putting their faith – for the faster homes can be built, bought and sold, the more money everyone makes. Investment in startups is on the rise across the industry: CBRE has its PropTech Challenge, MetaProp has most of real estate’s heavyweights behind real estate tech startups by bankrolling their new $40 million VC fund. Whilst investments are on the rise, and diversifying, there remains a large portion of interest in virtual and augmented realities. No surprise, as research by Global Market Insights, Inc predicts the market size of augmented reality solutions will exceed $50 billion by 2024, despite 2019’s gloomy predicted outlook by the tech press.  

Alternative Realities – A Quick Guide

VR and AR I assume we all now know about, but XR perhaps less so – it’s eXtended Reality. In with XR is MR, or Mixed Reality; when both VR and AR are used together. 

Nowadays it’s not too far-fetched to imagine that alternative realities really will change our world. However, before we take a magic leap too far, here are the basics behind them. 

VR, or virtual reality, is the oldest of these concepts. It refers to ways in which we can use technology to create more-or-less real-looking places to explore and engage with. The key characteristic of this is that it attempts to be an immersive experience, divorced from the real world. 

In comparison, AR or augmented reality, removes a lot of the problems with representing an entire virtual world. Instead, it keeps the user in the real world, generally with your smartphone or special glasses. Such overlays can provide simple information (e.g. “this corridor is 18.7 metres long”) or complex (such as a inserting moving human-sized characters into a room to show what it would look like full). 

XR stands for eXtended Reality and is the umbrella term for all the technologies for representing and re-representing reality. It encompasses AR and VR, but also considers technologies where different versions of the same might be mixed and matched.

Most of us in real estate are familiar with Matterport’s end-to-end 3D immersive media platform, Microsoft’s HoloLens and Vuzix, the VR headset makers. In the built environment more broadly, specialists in safety Safety Compass are well respected, as is the French firm, GA Smart Buildings, and UpSkill’s Augmented Reality Platform offers so much to industrial workforces. But where do reality-based technologies fit into the future of workplace?

Talent Management, Training & Development

AR makes learning fun and engaging. If death by Powerpoint could be avoided with AR integration – and help employees perform at their best – then this is a win-win all round. For on-site training, or controlled testing, by ensuring we can test new methods or build prototypes without too many unnecessary risks, AR and VR have almost endless applications. For example, test-driving a new construction method before attempting to implement it in the real world.

Similarly, in today’s service-led economy, more and more companies are creating products that can be rather tricky to explain, and therefore quite hard to sell. Not everything sells itself, and AR could help solve this by doing demos in a way that people can understand in the real world; a more engaging explainer video, if you like.

Extending VR to video conferencing is less Star Trek than it might at first seem. Bringing together globally dispersed teams in meetings would be huge for culture building, relationship growth and a deeper level of understanding between international offices. With Google’s new Pixel Buds mixed into such a meeting, you can even translate on the fly (not too unlike the Babel fish in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). Simple attempts at cross-cultural bonding, in reality, make a huge difference. 

As an executive search firm, acquiring talent is one of the finest ways we think VR and AR could help the workplace. Think of the time saved on scheduling interviews, monitoring assessments and letting others review a candidate’s skillsets. Using VR in a hands-on way to check out a new workspace gives candidates an immersive experience which helps them to make an informed decision. Additionally, it would be a bonus for on-boarding, on both the candidate and employer side.

Imagining The Workplace Of 2025

The smart money in real estate sees AR as the bigger game-changer. Modern work life is dependent on data, and this is unlikely to change in the future. But data can be cumbersome and boring to access. Just think of all those hours spent poring over Excel sheets… AR offers vast improvements to this. Combined with AI and voice-activated assistants, you might be able to take the latest sales report, point your phone towards it, ask your phone to bring up the data you need, and see it appear as a pop-up out of the report. Point your phone to last month’s report, and the earlier figure pops up. Anything to brighten Excel is surely worth a try. 

Same goes for PowerPoint! Whilst sitting in on a meeting, you might bring up your phone to the PowerPoint presentation being shown, and be able to flip through the key points in an instant. New meeting attendee turned up unannounced? Building on FaceID, why couldn’t a quick glance on your phone reveal their name (Mark), company size (86 people), and core business service? By overlaying key information from the real world, AR can make data quickly available, more relevant, and easier to process. 

Over time, we are likely to see that AR and VR become embedded in other technologies. Yes, we are some way from the hyped science fiction-like futures that transformative technologies promise; if an environment can be imagined with alternative realities, it will eventually appear.