Working in VR: Less distraction, but not good for productivity, research says

vr headset

Image: Getty/Rebecca Nelson

Big tech companies have big visions for virtual reality (VR) and the metaverse that is redefining the workplace of the future, but the concept can be hard to get off the ground with business users if it doesn’t deliver many productivity benefits.

New research led by Dr Jens Gruberta specialist in human-computer interaction at the University of Coburg, Germany, suggests that more development work needs to be done before the systems are ready for the majority of workers.

“The study reveals that, as expected, VR results in significantly poorer ratings for most measures,” Grubert and the research team note in the non-peer-reviewed paper. Quantifying the effects of working in VR for one week‚Ć

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The study involved observing 16 people over a working week. Half of the participants used VR headsets at work eight hours a day for five days, and the other half used a desktop setup. Each participant then switched to the other line-up.

The aim was to quantify the effects of exchanging a desktop work environment with an average VR setup.

For the desktop side of the experiment, participants had a browser and Chrome Remote Desktop to connect to the work computer. On the VR side, the researchers chose the Oculus Quest 2 because it can track a user’s hands. The keyboard for the experiment was the Logitech K830, with an integrated touchpad.

All subjects were university employees.

Those using the desktop reported higher perceived productivity than those using the headset. VR users also scored significantly higher on frustration than desktop users. The researchers also measured presence, “negative affect”, well-being, anxiety, visual fatigue and heart rate. Desktop users did better in all measurements except heart rate, where there was no significant difference. On the first VR day, two participants lost weight because of migraines, nausea, and anxiety.

The study also looked at typing speed and found that the desktop users were significantly faster. Participants reported disliking the weight of the head-mounted display and the pressure on their faces. They also reported dislike of the time they spent removing the headset while drinking or eating.

However, some of the VR users reported positive experiences. Four of the VR participants enjoyed the experience of trying VR in a work context. Some loved to “take a break and look at an empty space”.

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Nine participants said they liked that the isolation in the VR condition allowed them to focus more on the tasks as they were not distracted, especially when combined with music from their headphones. However, this can also have drawbacks, and three participants said the VR condition was “a little scary” because they couldn’t see the presence of other people in the real world.

Only three of the 16 participants preferred VR. But all participants said they could envision using VR for work in the future if certain conditions are met, such as lighter screens with a higher resolution and being able to have multiple screens. Also, all participants said they could imagine using VR for a limited time.

One week after the experiment, participants were also asked if they had observed any other effects after completing the VR week. One participant said over the weekend she sometimes felt like she still had the headset on, while two others said they were “amazed at how detailed the real world is” after she removed the headsets.

But in the end, the researchers conclude that technology for the metaverse isn’t ready for general use for a full week of work. The researchers noted that given the limitations of current technology and the fact that VR provides a virtual approximation to the real environment, they did not expect the VR condition to outperform the physical condition – something also confirmed by the results. .

‚ÄúNevertheless, there was evidence that participants gradually overcame negative first impressions and initial discomfort. Overall, this study helps lay the groundwork for follow-up research, highlight current shortcomings and identify opportunities to improve the experience of working in VR “, they said.

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