Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

Apr 2020

Is Omni Workspace > Remote Workstation

Many knowledge workers have been relegated to working remotely against the foreground (many Zoom) meetings and attempts to recreate what’s lost in office culture sparked a thought summarized in a recent tweet:

Half wondering why we’ve not heard much about bulk or strategic purchases of HoloLens/Occulus/Magic Leap/etc devices… is available software, or the platforms themselves, still too immature for this productivity reset

For all of the individuals and companies making batches of rush purchases for monitors and keyboards, it’s a wonder why there’s not been so loud an ask for more omni-channel tools like he HoloLens, Occulus VR headsets, and similar. Thinking of just the projects am engaged within now, a HoloLens combined with PowerBI or Figma/Sketch2Code and brokered by MS Teams/Slack would essentially be all the “workstation” needed.

Now, there’s something to be said already about those whose home lives have also become the office. Nothing about putting on a helmet and googles will make that experience better. In fact, it might make it worse by actually removing an option to shift one’s physical space away from the restorative space of the home (for those with children,this is perhaps a non-starter and those folks could turn off the exit here). So, let’s not ignore that aspect. However, let’s sharpen the introspection a bit towards the “why not” for a mixed reality or omni-channel experience enabled by MR/VR/AR.

Using pieces of existing and recently past projects, let’s talk about a few ways forward for these workspaces and the work which comes from this:

  • Instead of needing to manage a status (or several depending on how many clients the enterprise offers), a nod of the head or swipe of the hand might be all that’s needed to keep oneself from being distracted from streams of messaging
  • For those with a bit of room to roam, being omni could enable contexts such as a corner in one room for messages and another for memes and entertainment — enabling attempts to “not get stuck at ones desk” into something of a game of “moving the chairs”
  • In one project, the goal is to help folks ask better questions of their datasets, so they can help decision makers make better decisions — instead of the 2D spreadsheet or the almost-3D pivot table, we’d move into a 4D and shared “what can you do if we move the data around like this” kind of kinesthetic exploration
  • In another project, designers would be empowered to not just think of and design for a browser, but to also consider the world and work outside of the browser — how does ones sense of the physical world help or handicap their ability to navigate through processes and data structures designers put forth
  • In another project, a conflict between roles and people has made for a convoluted understanding of “workflows;” could navigating the flow-as-documented in 4D reshape the narrative to isolating the policies, roles, dependencies, and processes in a way better understood by every interested and listening party
  • And maybe a favorite, instead of “let’s meet and discuss status at this time,” the role of managers and leads as “talking heads” becomes a TikTok-like “who can record and leave their message in the space for when it needs to be consumed” type of production; maybe driven by a “meme of the day” or “Memoji of the team mascot” to deliver the update

One doesn’t have to go far as to wondering why these haven’t been pursued. These platforms are still quite new, quiet expensive, and largely unavailable in the quantities needed to make such conceptual leaps of interaction more feasible. There’s also the outstanding learning curve, the physical and mental fatigue it would cause over the course of a formal workday and week, and even the quality of connectivity given the rise in midday gaming and Netflix. Suffice to say, there’s quite a few reasons to not even get this ball rolling.

And yet, here’s one near-futurist asking “why not?” Aside from a spread of contexts ranging from Minority Report to Her, what does the information/knowledge worker really have to lose by moving from the “workstation” to the “workspace?” And if they can shift there easily, while increasing the quality of what’s being produced (let’s leave the tangible goods as simply “strategy and insights”), the potential to reset the value of work becomes much easier to realize.

In something of a half step there, the home office is an iPad Pro connected to a USB-C monitor, using an application called ShiftScreen, the Apple Pencil 2, the Tap wireless keyboard, and a pair of prescription, bone-conduction glasses from Vue. There’s a sense that the workspace is much larger than what can be contained on those screens and the tooling is allowing interactions beyond typing, pointing, and clicking.

If this were an opportunity to change work, perhaps moving it from a station to a space would open up more than simply the previously imagined worlds we found in science fiction. Perhaps we could finally move from simply being remote workers, to being a part of a omin-channel-like participants. Where more of our whole selves aren’t just involved in passing along the facts, but actively crafting dimensions in a world in which those facts are waiting to be discovered anew.