Virtual reality office is the future of your workplace, says Facebook

Matthew Field
Facebook - Facebook/Oculus

The future of work could involve creating a digital avatar of yourself to attend an office that exists almost entirely in virtual reality (VR), according to Facebook's latest plans.  

Meetings would be conducted in digital shape-shifting rooms, colleagues would appears as hyper-realistic virtual characters and your physical workspace will include “floating screen” - all viewed through a VR headset. 

Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s head of virtual reality, tweeted a glimpse of what working from home might look like as more companies move to allow employees to work from home permanently. 

He said Facebook was “supercharging remote work and productivity” by creating a mixed reality environment, or the merging of real and virtual worlds through a headset.

Facebook - Facebook

A video accompanying the tweet showed floating displays that could be moved and repositioned using hand gestures, as well as the user typing on a keyboard with a virtual taskbar hovering over it with internet shortcuts. 

“This is real footage using prototype headsets. We’re always experimenting with future concepts using different hardware configurations as part of our proof-of-experience process” Mr Bosworth said.

The tweet came hours after Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's chief executive, said that half of its 45,000 staff will work from home permanently, and hinted at a slew of high-tech home working innovations.

Facebook said virtual reality headsets, such as its $1,000 (£820) Oculus device for businesses, would let workers use “infinite workspaces with configurable virtual screens, whiteboards and other visionary tools”. 

The company is also exploring the use of  hyper realistic avatars, which it calls Codec Avatars, that could enable collaboration in a virtual reality workplace. These avatars offer photo-realistic virtual characters that move and look almost exactly like the humans they represent.

“Today, much of the human nuance we experience every day is lost while working remotely,” Facebook said. Its Codec Avatars would mimic human expressions and speech in the virtual world.

Questions over the user of virtual and augmented reality technology remain, however, with motion sickness still affecting many users. 

This “cyber sickness” is because of the “sensory conflict” between what users see and what movement their body feels, according to Professor John Golding, a professor at the University of Westminster. 

Too much lag or flickering can make people feel nauseous. “Good modern systems can be sufficiently powerful to get around that, but not always,” he said. Guidance for Facebook’s Oculus headsets suggest users take a break every 30 minutes. 

Mr Zuckerberg added Facebook was looking at fully remote hiring to add employees away from its main offices in Silicon Valley and London. 

“A place of work is not going to be just your desk now,” said Robert Newry, co-founder of Arctic Shores, a start-up developing remote hiring technology. “A lot of tech companies have been having these conversations about more flexible working. It is not going to happen that in January everyone just goes back to the office.”