Companies like Meta have attached great importance to the idea of a digital exodus. There is a lot of talk about work in distraction-free, virtual environments (opens in new tab) the future could be. But as it stands, researchers say working in virtual reality is overwhelming, frustrating and unproductive.
The newspaper, ‘Quantifying the effects of working in VR for one week (opens in new tab)’ (PDF warning) delves deep into the viability of long-term working in a virtual environment (via new scientist (opens in new tab)† Participants, all university employees or researchers, were asked to work in VR for a week.
The results were less than positive.
Participants were asked to work with Chrome Remote Desktop, which, if anything in my personal experience, was probably half the usability problem. Jokes aside, the researchers chose a Oculus (Meta) Quest 2 (opens in new tab) VR headset, allowing participants to use the hand tracking with a physical keyboard – a Logitech K830 with integrated trackpad.
Part of the rationale behind not using the very best headset out there was to go for “a setup that offers a similar experience to working in the physical desktop environment”.
Most people don’t have $2,399 to spend on a 12K Pimax VR Headset (opens in new tab)let alone the PC specs to run it.
Before even embarking on most of the testing, the study notes “concerning levels of simulator sickness” and “below average usability ratings.” Two subjects even stopped on the first day because they suffered from nausea, migraines and anxiety. Not a great start.
The remaining ones worked eight hours a day, with 45 minutes to recuperate and sniff some lunch. Each of them scored their VR work experience against working in a physical environment, and it was found that many felt their workload had increased, on average by 35%. Frustration also skyrocketed by 42%, the ‘negative effect’ statistic increased by 11% and anxiety increased by 19%.
Overall, mental well-being was reported to have declined by 20%. Putting a number on things like this is hard, but that doesn’t sound like a particularly healthy score. And the physical side wasn’t much better. Eye strain increased by 48% and VR scored 36% lower in usability. In addition, the participants’ rated workflow decreased by 14% and their perceived productivity decreased by 16%.
The research will aid the process as we move into a more VR-laden world, by “clearly highlighting current shortcomings and identifying opportunities to improve the experience of working in VR.”
Last year we set a record six things VR is really good at right now (opens in new tab)† The list included fitness and wellness, and even virtual travel – work, unsurprisingly, wasn’t on the list.