Virtual reality: rendering offices obsolete?

In 2014, Facebook bought Oculus Rift with the vision of virtual reality (VR) in every home. Each day, we’re closer to VR becoming a staple of our routines, and the potential for this technology to change our lives is boundless.

We’ve already begun to work and socialize online with tools like Skype and Google Hangouts, and in the not so distant future, we may do these things exclusively virtually. We’ll experience restaurants from our own kitchen tables, and instead of going into an office each day, we’ll be able to plug into our workplace from home or any other location that suits us.

But no matter how realistic VR becomes, there will always be a need for buildings and spaces outside of our homes.

How office spaces are changing

We’ve already seen a trend of “WeWorkification” as flexibility and mobility have become more valuable for the modern workforce. Business owners don’t want to be locked into five-year or more leases for office spaces.

Virtual reality could take this trend even further, making the market for office spaces in the future center around short-term rentals versus permanent headquarters for companies. And as more team members choose to work remotely from their virtual office, meeting spaces will likely be almost exclusively rented on an hourly basis. This would change the definition of what it means to work remote: employees could physically be in one place and still convene with colleagues in another.

Why physical offices and meeting places aren’t going anywhere

So, what does the office look like in 20 to 30 years?

This question is really: to what extent will physical presence still matter in business? To answer it, we have to get to the fundamentals of what it means to be a person. Do we need to be in the same place to establish rapport and trust? Or, can deals be done in a virtual setting, where a handshake isn’t necessary?

By nature, many formal business transactions are actually better suited to take place virtually. For example, when a CFO provides strategic financial analysis to his company’s leadership, it may be better understood through unbiased, unemotional delivery enabled by VR. In these cases, where we’re operating virtually a majority of the time, workspaces need to be wired to enable strong collaboration.

There will always be instances where personal business interactions need to take place, such as when we meet with colleagues for brainstorming and ideation. It’s in these cases where we agree with the 75% of people who say there’s no substitute for face-to-face. When it comes to the need for in-person collaboration, work environments need to be optimized for the now suddenly unique experience of connecting with others in real life.

In a virtual world where everything is doable without being together, actually being together will be even more special. As we become more integrated with technology, the way we interact with others will become dehumanized. We will crave the human interaction that technology has removed. Then, rather than focusing on optimizing experiences with technology, we’ll be optimizing experiences for in-person connections.

To this end, we envision office spaces with pods where people can work individually or use virtual reality to plug into meetings in other locations. Outside of these pods, there will be meeting areas for connecting with your colleagues as well as outdoor spaces for unwinding. Offices overall will be more enjoyable and provide a better experience to those who work there.

If you’re already using CRE technology like virtual reality for property tours, it’s time to think beyond today and start looking toward the future about how these shifts will change the way investors buy and lease their properties.