Meetings, workshops, conferences, and webinars are happening in the same virtual — and often monotonous — ways. We’re stuck with a screen in almost the same pose and posture. Most of the time sitting down, which may well have longer term health consequences. “According to the American Psychological Association (APA) remote, and in many parts of the world, isolated online working also has psychological effects: feelings of apathy, anxiety and even depression have been reported since the onset of COVID-19.
More specifically, why do we experience the virtual meetings as more energy consuming than meeting our colleagues and clients face-to-face? Psychologists emphasise that this is because of lack of social and nonverbal cues, which can form as much as 80% of human communication. Combined with social isolation, it is all the more important to focus on mental health alongside physical health”, says Anna Bäckström, Principal of Consumer Science at Fourkind, part of ThoughtWorks, and Adjunct Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Helsinki.
Even now with the re-opening of offices around the world, it will be difficult to go back to business as usual, while maintaining the social distancing norms. With constraints here to stay for the foreseeable future, it’s time to shape and rethink new ways of working and interactions.
Can XR help here?
XR provides a strong opportunity to extend our world from 2D to 3D, and, by adding wearables to the experience, to simulate a ‘real life’ experience. But could this be used in a valuable and productive way in a work environment?
At ThoughtWorks, we built an XR incubation center that lets us conduct XR experiments, while collaborating on agile development practices like TDD (test driven development) and CI/CD (continuous integration/continuous delivery) for XR, we have also open-sourced a test automation framework named Arium to fast track XR application development. All this work with XR tech has helped us understand the space more deeply. Recently our CMO sponsored the incubator to explore how XR could improve team working in a virtual environment. This resulted in us building an app called ThoughtArena, an augmented reality-based mobile app, that allows users to create a multi media space with virtual boards in which to collaborate. With this experiment, we wanted to test our hypothesis that XR can improve engagement, enjoyment, creativity and productivity while working remotely.
We engaged with just under 60 users to test their experience and reactions to the ThoughtArena tool. The testing was split into two parts, a qualitative and quantitative test. The quantitative one focused on usability and the experience itself, and the qualitative one focused on the behaviour and expression of the users while they were using the app.