5 Reasons Working in VR is Corporate Bullshit

Learn 5 reasons why working in VR is completely crap, and what you should do instead

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With metaverse knocking at the door, many experts start to think about working in VR. People are starting to imagine a world where your workplace will be a virtual reality, where you put your visor on and immerse yourself in another world where you are way more productive than ever.

If you are here, it means you are interested in working in VR. Maybe you want to know if it is possible, what it is like, what are the advantages, and if or when it will become a mainstream reality, as opposed to a niche. Well, my friend, you are in the right place.

This is an opinion article, where I share my views in working in VR, as of 2022. And if you want to collapse this statement view into one sentence: working in VR in nonsense. At the time of writing this, it fails to deliver business value, it brings nothing better to the picture, and traditional working is preferrable. The future looks somewhat better, but still with dubious results. We will get to that.

Working in VR: The How

How does working in in VR look like?

Before we can start to discuss benefits and drawbacks of working in VR and see if it is good for you, you should have a good understanding of what it looks like. Unfortunately, not everyone has a few grands to shell out to buy a visor and a PC powerful enough to run it, so trying this experience firsthand is not at everyone’s fingertip.

But you can get an idea by watching a video. The way VR will work in your job depend on what you need to do in your job. But, in short, we can divide everything in two camps: working at your desk and interacting with people in the virtual world. Working at your desk is easy, it means you work at the computer, except the computer is inside VR. Interacting with people in a virtual world can be something like a virtual receptionist, customer support, or things like that. We won’t cover such jobs as they are still niche, but we will see how to use VR in meetings later on.

Instead, for now we focus on working in VR using a computer (inside the VR). This video on YouTube provides a general idea of what that looks like, and how you can setup such an environment to your preference.

What do you need to work in VR?

If you are serious about working in VR, you will need a VR helmet. Almost any type of VR equipment manufacturer will support some app to have virtual screen and allow you to work. If you have special needs, you may check with your company which is better.

However, as I will argue later in this article, VR is not the place to work, so if you plan on buying such equipment primarily for working, you may want to hold onto your money. If you already have it, or plan to buy it for gaming, you might as well give a try to working in VR.

What do meetings look like when working in VR?

Once again, the real way to understand it is to try it on your own. And, once again, that can be just prohibitively expensive. The next-best-thing if you cannot try, is by watching a video like the one below.

As you can see, it is similar to working at your desk inside the VR. This time you are in a space with other people, each has a virtual avatar, and you can talk, chat, see large screens all around you, and more.

In the video, Scott does a great job unveiling the good and the bad of the VR, an also give some perspective of where the technology may be headed according to Mark Zuckerberg. It’s worth a watch.

Working in VR: Should I Do It?

No, you should not. Let’s see why.

The Advantages of Working in VR

If you speak with people who run VR companies like Meta, they will tell you that the metaverse is everything and that working in VR is the future. I am sure they believe it, otherwise they would not spend billions to develop visors and virtual worlds. Still, because of the conflict of interest, it is not from them that I expect criticism of VR to come from. But we will get to that in a minute.

First, it is important to acknowledge that VR comes with some advantages, even for working. Some of those advantages are objective and cannot be disputed. Other are more dubious and claimed.

The first advantage of working in VR is that you have your complete workspace wherever you are. If you work with 10 screens at the office, when you travel it is hard to carry 10 screens around. With VR, all you need is your helmet. Then, wherever you go, you can have your perfect work setup, that is always the same. You will need less physical space or footprint to have all those screens. This is objective and cannot be denied.

Other benefits are more claims than facts. Among the most mentioned online, you will find:

  • When working in VR ,you are more productive because you have no distractions
  • You can seamlessly interact in an in-person fashion with local and remote colleagues, wherever you are in the world
  • In meetings, you are free to create your avatar any way you want. You are what you want yourself to be, rather than what you actually are, and this means more freedom to express yourself, and those better diversity and inclusion
  • You have new tools not available before, for example you can easily visualize 3D prototypes of products in a way that almost feel real

Yes, all of this is good stuff. But is it real? What are the drawbacks or hiccups of working in VR? Let’s discuss those point-by-point. In my view, all these claims can be disputed, at least to some extent.

Working in VR and Productivity

When working in VR, you are more productive because you have no distraction, the saying goes.

But now let’s enter in the world of the grown-ups. If, when you work, you are distracted by people chatting down the hallway put your headset on and turn on music/white noise/noise cancellation. If you can’t work because your phone keeps buzzing with distracting notifications, silence your phone. If you are distracted because you have a lot of clutter on your desk, get rid of the clutter. Or, again, if you are distracted because you are working on your PC where you have dozens of videogames you like – well, it is not like this problem is going away inside VR.

In short, distractions are real and hinder productivity. Yet, VR does not bring any revolution in fighting distractions. So, it is not VR to increase productivity. If you manage to put yourself in a “real” physical environment where you have no distraction, you will be just as productive.

And here we are not even considering the stress VR puts on your eyes. At the moment, using a visor is much taxing on your eyes than looking at a screen. It drains your energy, and probably is not even good for your sight on the long term. In short, just by looking at something, you are draining your own energy.

You need this energy to be productive, so over a long stretch of time it is likely that you will be actually less productive, just by the fact that you are in VR. Now, this depends on a person-per-person basis, and some may feel the effects of this more than others. Still, after interviewing some people who spent significant time inside VR, I found this to be a real challenge for most.

So, working in VR does not increase your productivity because of virtual reality itself. Any increase in productivity can be achieved (even more easily) in the physical world. Instead, VR can hinder your productivity by being taxing on your eyes.

Working in VR and Collaboration

With all those avatars, collaboration must be amazing inside the VR, right? After all, you can interact with everyone around the world in a seamless way, it must be amazing. Well, yes and no.

Sure, when working in VR and having meetings you have an undeniably immersive experience. You feel you are physically there, in the room. But sorry to break it down to you, the room looks more like a Roblox world (or Habbo Hotel room, for those of you who are millennials). It is not really like a “real” world, and while it feels like in person, it is not in person.

When meeting in VR, you get something new: the feeling of being in the same room. This is something that cannot be achieved remotely in any other way, and the only alternative to this is meeting in person, for real. This is good, and a point in favor of VR. However, in order to do that, you sacrifice something that is even more important. You sacrifice visual interaction with real people.

Working in VR can be done with smartphones, laptops, or desktop computers
From the outside, this is what a meeting in VR may look like.

In a normal videoconference, where you use webcams, you can actually see people faces and people can see your face. They can see your genuine smile, worried look, or whatever emotion you feel. Sure, it is not the same as in-person, but it is something. With VR, since you have avatars, all of this goes away.

Instead, you get pre-programmed emotions, like having your avatar behave according to some emoji. This is not the same thing. Arguably, it can lead to people being less and less able to recognize real emotions and be better at recognize emotions according to Meta, or whatever VR company of your liking.

Did your mom ever told you “Go make some friends” or “Go get a girlfriend/boyfriend”? Well, the didn’t mean to that in VR, and that’s for a reason. Connections in VR are not real as they might be in the real world. They are actually worse than in traditional videoconference.

On top of that, working in VR is only virtual, and you alienate in-person colleagues. Do you have the familiar feeling when you walk in a room and there is a TV with the face of your colleague videoconferencing into the meeting from across the country? In that case, you have a mixed in-person and digital experience. You can’t do that with VR. You either put your visor on, or not. You are either in the real world, or in the physical world. VR is not suitable for hybrid.

To be honest, Microsoft is developing something hybrid with their holographic helmet. Yet, that is still prohibitively costly and, most importantly, hinders the real experience as well. Even if you are able to see both real and virtual world in augmented reality (and not “virtual reality”), the helmet is bulky. Hence, other people in the room will have troubles seeing your eyes and expression.

Working in VR and Diversity & Inclusion (DEI)

Diversity and Inclusion, or DEI, is one of the buzzwords of the 2020’s. Companies want to be more inclusive, involve minorities, create a plurality of opinions and cultures. This is a great objective that should be pursued in its own sake. Unfortunately, not all executives (still predominantly male and white in the Western world) have a clear path to that. If there is an initiative that promises to increase DEI, they will jump on it. It is not surprise that when we say things like “Working in VR fosters Diversity and Inclusion”, they go nuts.

The idea is simple. Minorities sometimes feels at a disadvantage and are uncomfortable to express their true self. They do not dress the way they want, say what they want, or are even afraid people will look them with some sort of bias in person. In VR, you can create your avatar in any way you want, unleashing full expression of personality.

The problem with this is that the avatar is just that, an avatar. In fact, to consolidate brand identity, all avatars in a virtual reality tend to have some sort of “style” in common. It may be the size of the head relative to the body, the shape of the eyes, whatever – every company tends to streamline diversity to create a consistent and powerful brand experience. In short, if you were to create yourself with the most possible fidelity, you just could not.

Working in VR means streamlining diversities into a familiar style. In other words, diversity tend to be hidden in VR, or at least not expressed in the same way as it might be in person. Compared to a phone call, working in VR increases the experience in terms of diversity and inclusion. Yet, compared to a video call or in-person experience, it tends to be dehumanizing.

Yet, we should mention a benefit of working in VR. Not everyone has the same opportunities at home, and not everyone has a proper working desk, not the same way he would at the office at least. This can put pressure in video calls on people who feel they don’t have a “socially acceptable” environment to work, even if they can work just fine. With VR, this problem is solved because people can’t pry in your home with their webcam.

New Tools for Working in VR

Let’s face it, working in VR for some niche applications can be cool and productive. Yet, this is true only for professions that really benefit from VR, and are mainly related to prototyping or creating something physical.

If you produce some sort of physical product, you may want to get a feeling of what it looks like before you start producing it. Instead of producing a physical unit as a prototype, which may be expensive and costly and time-consuming, you can visualize it in VR. Even better, you can visualize your product in VR while you create it. If you need to tweak it, you tweak it on the spot.

With this new way of working, you shorten the feedback loop and are able to prototype faster and for little or no cost.

Working in VR can be done anywhere
To work in VR, all you need is a visor and a powerful computer. That can be expensive.

Even in those cases, the benefits that working in VR brings to the table are debatable. For sure, the immersive technology of VR allows you to visualize a prototype almost as “for real”. This is a fact, and it is undeniable. However, how much does this add in terms of business value? How much better is it to view a prototype and walk around in VR, rather than just see its render on a computer screen? For sure it is better, but how do you measure that?

As of 2022, visors to work in VR are relatively cheap for a company, so it can be useful to have a couple always at hand. So, even a small benefit can outweigh this cost. This is true, but it is not the only cost to consider. If you have a 3D model, you need to load it into a VR world with the proper size and settings, if there are animations you want it to do they need to be applied – all in all, you need extra work just to make the VR display. Yet, this works serves just that, specifically to prototype of VR. In most cases, prototyping an actual physical object is cheaper.

Prototyping in VR is great only for a limited set of niche industries, like fashion or art, where it is much more about “feeling” rather than precise measurements in AutoCAD. Another important situation where VR can bring some benefit is when we want to expose customers to prototypes. By releasing our prototypes in customer-accessible virtual-worlds, we are able to enter the feedback loop before even launching any product. In such cases, VR brings an objective benefit that cannot be found elsewhere.

Working in VR = Having Sex in VR

I would like to summarize with this controversial metaphor: working in VR is at the same level of having sex in VR. It is a substitute for niche applications, but nowhere close to the real deal. Real interactions with real people are always better, in both cases.

Nobody is claiming that VR will make having sex better or revolutionize it, because the whole point is being with someone else. The same should be true with working in VR: you should see like something that substitutes for parts of the in-person experience, only when the in-person experience is not possible. And you need to realize that there are often better substitutes that deliver higher quality results at a fraction of the cost, such as traditional videoconferences.

Picture of Alessandro Maggio

Alessandro Maggio

Project manager, critical-thinker, passionate about networking & coding. I believe that time is the most precious resource we have, and that technology can help us not to waste it. I founded ICTShore.com with the same principle: I share what I learn so that you get value from it faster than I did.
Picture of Alessandro Maggio

Alessandro Maggio

Project manager, critical-thinker, passionate about networking & coding. I believe that time is the most precious resource we have, and that technology can help us not to waste it. I founded ICTShore.com with the same principle: I share what I learn so that you get value from it faster than I did.

Alessandro Maggio