How spatial computing ends the concept of remote work

You roll into Starbucks.

While a barista makes your Chocolate Crunch Frappuccino with espresso-infused whipped cream sprinkled with crushed biscotti and almonds, you flip open your thin, light laptop and do a little work. You grab your drink and head out to the car, where your phone receives a call. You take the call over the car's speaker and microphone while Google Maps directs you to your destination.

This whole scenario is commonplace and unremarkable — boring, even. But 30 years ago, it would have been inconceivably futuristic and fantastical.

Over the past three decades, portable computers went from generally available to ubiquitous; nowadays, light, powerful, connected laptops are more common than desktop computers. Pocketable smartphones have replaced landline phones. And those same smartphones have replaced 100 other objects (including calculators, cameras, alarm clocks, etc.) for most of the population.

Until the early 1990s (for 99% of the population), using a computer meant sitting at the spot where a computer was "installed." Definitely your office. Possibly your home. Literally nowhere else.

At the time, people didn't call other people. You called the place where the phone was permanently connected — and hoped the person you wanted to talk to was at that location physically.

Mobile platforms and networks — hardware, software, and services — ended the concept of computing and phone calls being location-specific.

They enabled the concept of remote work as we know it today. And spatial computing platforms will end the concept of remote work. Here's what I mean.

How spatial computing ends remote work

Fast forward five years. It's 9 a.m., and time for the daily meeting with your team. You put on a super-light headset as holographic avatars of your team start popping into view. A little chitchat while waiting for the stragglers to show up. The people are life-size. Their voices come from the direction of their avatars. You make eye contact while talking to them.

Then it's time to get started. With a simple hand gesture, you throw up a shared whiteboard plus a presentation you're all collaborating on. One team member cycles through a series of prospective 3D images to illustrate a slide, and everybody sees it. All agree that a colleague outside the team can add something to the conversation, so with another hand gesture, you request they join the call, and their avatar appears in the meeting. The meeting concludes, and with a wave of your hand, the call ends, and the documents are all saved in the cloud.

But here's the thing: One team member is in a home office. Another is at the company headquarters. A third is at the airport waiting for a flight. And you're living in Fiji for the month.

And nobody cares where anybody else is.

The workplace is fully virtual. And that's true for the colleague in the office and the one at the airport. When the workplace is virtual, nobody is remote. There's no such thing as remote work.

Of course, you could say that's how things are now. But they're not. Today, even if half the team is in a meeting room and half are working from home (WFH) connecting via Zoom, the psychological reality is that the meeting is "happening" in the conference room and the WFH people are "remote."

Even if everybody in a meeting is working from home, you feel remote from those workers because everybody's talking mugshot is in a tiny box on a screen.

With augmented reality platforms like Apple's Vision Pro and visionOS (plus Apple's Spatial Personas feature), the people you're meeting with have a powerful psychological presence in your physical space — and you in theirs. Here's what that will look like.

So while employees, managers, executives, business owners, and others grapple with the soon-obsolete concept of in-office work vs. hybrid work vs. remote work, technology changes will virtualize the workplace completely.

And the change is directly comparable to the mobile computing revolution. When laptops and cell phones (then later smartphones) emerged, companies dithered and debated for years about issues like bringing your own device (BYOD) and whether companies should issue phones to employees or whether employees should be allowed to use company laptops for personal uses.

All those issues seem quaint now.

Likewise, today's debate about where employees work will in a few years seem like the strange and funny concerns of a bygone era that couldn't imagine the total virtualization of the workplace through spatial computing.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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