Make the collaboration work for you

With continuous technological progress, immersive technology is increasingly used to collaborate. Niklas Friederici and Dr. Thomas Bohné of IfM discuss how this trend has accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led many professionals to collaborate remotely more than ever.

Immersive technology includes everything that integrates digital content into the real world, from augmented reality games based on smartphones to virtual worlds that can be explored together using head-mounted screens.

Collaborative immersive technology has been used in companies in a variety of ways. These methods include: “remote experts” (physically absent experts who support local employees with a problem using immersive technology) or shared workspaces (where multiple users can see and discuss the same virtual object while in the same physical location or collaborate remotely).

But while technology is advancing rapidly, important challenges remain, such as sensor accuracy, network reliability, privacy issues, and social acceptance.

In a recent study, we examined the field of collaborative immersive technology and identified nine major technological, organizational, and social factors that should be considered when deploying immersive technology for collaborative purposes in a organization.

Technological factors

These include the number of technology vendors that can provide organizations with the necessary hardware and software, the mode of innovation (open versus closed) that is applied in technology development, and the degree to which organizations customize the technology. technology.

For example, the number of technology vendors on which an organization is based for immersive technology can have significant implications for system compatibility. In turn, this can influence user acceptance within an organization; employees will have difficulty using an immersive system that does not integrate well with their other tools.

Open innovation is another aspect that needs attention. Has the technology developed behind closed doors a company or is it integrated into an open and transparent ecosystem of hardware and software, which facilitates system compatibility and reduces privacy concerns?

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Organizational factors and at the level of employees

These are vital issues that also need to be considered. Is your organization modern or traditional? Are your employees and their activities flexible or rigid? A development engineer may be able to easily collaborate with their peers in a virtual environment and modify virtual product designs using virtual reality headsets, while a purchasing specialist may prefer face-to-face negotiations with their suppliers. .

In addition, organizations must decide whether to introduce the new technology in the most relevant units (e.g., in design teams) or whether to introduce it to the entire workforce.

It is certainly not possible for all types of organizations to rely solely on immersive technology to collaborate. A vehicle manufacturer, for example, will always require certain physical resources for its production processes and cannot move all operations to virtual environments.

However, the combination of immersive technology with robotics or artificial intelligence promises advances for virtually all manufacturers. And service providers, such as consultants, could move all their activities to a virtual space and avoid the need for any physical office, speeding up processes and making them more personal than remote email-based collaboration. and the telephone.

Social factors

Social factors include the multiple potential misuses of immersive technology and the data it provides. This could range from overuse of technology by an individual (think of “zoom fatigue”, aggravated by immersive technology) to misuse and exploitation of their employees’ data. by an entire organization.

Immersive technology is vulnerable to privacy issues. Sensors must constantly monitor the user and their environment; for example, it is understandable that people do not want to share the tracking of their eye movements and therefore their focus on collaborative situations. At some point, computer-brain interfaces may even allow devices to communicate with the user’s mind, with all the personal and privacy implications this entails.

Therefore, addressing privacy issues and ensuring proper confidentiality is essential to optimizing the data exchange benefits that technology brings. Immersive technology can also have intentional and unwanted psychological effects. The intended effects include the main goal of augmented and virtual reality applications: to create a sense of immersion. Users get the impression that they are in the same space as their virtual peers, an important advantage over screen-based collaboration.

On the other hand, improper use of immersive technology can lead to headaches, self-isolation, or decreased personal interactions. Some studies have already discovered surprising psychological effects in virtual environments; for example, more confidential information tends to be disclosed to attractive avatars and users have more confidence in negotiations when their own avatar is higher than others.

Therefore, it is crucial to minimize unwanted effects and use technology only for appropriate situations.

Recommendations for your business

  • Identify situations that make the most of immersive technology. Immersive technology can enhance the collaboration of knowledge workers when used effectively. Examples include immersive design sessions that stimulate creativity and remote expert settings that save time and travel costs.
  • Evaluate the amount of communication and virtual collaboration needed. Organizations can deploy collaborative immersive technology for different purposes to varying degrees. The starting points of the evaluation include the degrees of formalization and centralization of the organization, its culture and the adaptation of its employees.
  • Look beyond technological and financial viability. The social and employee level factors we have outlined, including possible misuse of technology, unwanted psychological effects, and privacy issues, are equally important to the successful use of immersive technology.

Immersive technology has enormous potential to improve productivity and creative collaboration, but its launch requires careful consideration to harness that potential.

For more information on this research project or other ongoing projects, please contact the head of the cyber lab, Dr. Thomas Bohné, by email. [email protected] or visit the website.

Niklas Friederici (right) and Dr. Thomas Bohné are researchers in the Cyber-Human Lab of the Manufacturing Institute at Cambridge University. The lab focuses on how technologies can be used to increase human labor and improve human performance in industry.

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