Virtual Reality for Distributed Workforces

Virtual reality (VR) has been a tool for communication and research for several decades. However, until now, it was generally not practical to experience collaborative VR tools immersively without a heavy investment into a highly technical infrastructure. For the majority of users, remote meeting tools have been limited to simple webcams and 2D desktop displays, with minor implications for how included remote team members may or may not feel. Often times, these tools leave virtual participants feeling left out of collaborative efforts. The rise of inexpensive commercial immersive VR technology means a revolution in for distributed workforces meeting remotely.

With each improvement made to VR technology, the level of potential immersion has increased. This provides the opportunity for users to feel more present within the virtual or actual meeting space. The perception of feeling as if one is within a space may influence how people communicate and interact remotely in collaborative team meetings. This in part relates to how presence forms when allocating attention and becoming engaged with a virtual space (Vorderer et al., 2004). Despite the potential of spatial presence to aid with remote collaborations challenges remain concerning the use of VR technology in remote collaborative settings. For example, it remains difficult to assess the impact of such systems on user experiences (as early noted by Steuer, 1992). We propose to address one such challenge through a systematic evaluation of VR technology systems in terms of their media affordances of immersion (Balakrishnan & Sundar, 2011; Oprean, 2014). Through the use of VR technology and web-enabled 360 camera technology, we posit that team members may feel as if they are in the same physical location regardless of actual distance between them. For example, one member in the field with an appropriate camera can “bring” one or more the team members to the field with them, or a member in the field can feel more included by being “present” in the meeting room.