Great work has always been synonymous with great challenges — building better products, reaching new customers, and navigating changing markets. Regardless of the business or industry, the success of any product or venture rests in people and the tools they use to get the job done. But what happens when our tools no longer help us to do our work? Email, chat, and video are the backbone of most businesses today, but they’re struggling to keep up with an increasingly distributed workforce.
Collaboration across distance demands real-time connections, shared vision and context, and a powerful sense of community. Here at Facebook, we’re looking at the next computing platform — powered by augmented reality and virtual reality — to deliver the tools and experiences we need for the future of work.
We envision a dynamic virtual work environment anchored by genuine social presence. Next-generation devices would give people infinite workspaces with configurable virtual screens, whiteboards, and other visionary tools. You could work alone or collaborate in a persistent meeting room with remote coworkers like you were all sharing the same physical space, and with all of the nuance of in-person conversation.
Turning this vision of tomorrow’s workplace into reality is one of our greatest goals at Facebook. We have taken significant steps toward this goal with new experiences built on today’s technologies. We’re also building the deep tech stack and tools necessary to take a quantum leap forward to the next computing platform and a new reality, in which traveling for work is optional and a person’s career is dictated by his or her choices — not geography.
Rolling up our sleeves
Our strategy is twofold: Designing solutions for today while laying the groundwork for tomorrow. Workplace, Portal, and Oculus for Business represent this initial push. We’re using hardware and software to transform how employees connect remotely across distributed teams. The future of work calls for seamless connectivity between devices to ensure that all employees (not just innovators and early adopters) will be able to reap the benefits.
With Workplace, companies across industries are collaborating like never before and producing better results. With more than 5 million paid users (and counting) on Workplace, we see a real movement building. By empowering all workers with the latest information and tools, we’re helping companies build stronger teams and foster more meaningful relationships on the job. Video is an increasingly important way that people are collaborating more closely on Workplace; combined with dedicated hardware, its benefits become clear.
Teams that connect through Workplace on Portal feel more engaged and immersed in their daily interactions, thanks to Portal’s AI-powered Smart Camera and Smart Sound. More than asynchronous communications, Portal allows people to create stronger relationships and the opportunities for serendipitous collaboration. Workplace Live and Workplace Rooms are two new features that deliver the kind of connectedness people feel when working together physically, where your laptop is free for multitasking and you can be more productive while remote.
If video shows us the strength of 2D displays, VR and Oculus for Business demonstrate the potential of full 3D immersion and presence. VR provides cutting-edge experiences for companies like Nestlé Purina and Stantec, which redefine the nine-to-five, with measurable impact on performance and job satisfaction through better meetings, effective training, and meaningful collaboration. All of this leads to better outcomes for businesses, workers, and customers. Workplace is also at the foundation of Oculus for Business, letting companies deploy VR-powered workflows economically and at scale, without disrupting day-to-day operations. Across the stack with first-party solutions, system apps, and services, we are actively exploring how to better help our customers and partners enable collaboration in VR.
Together, these products are reshaping how work gets done, but there’s a long road ahead of us. Email and video calls aren’t going anywhere, and we expect people to go from surface to surface depending on their needs. From mobile to desktop to Portal, VR, and eventually AR, we’re looking ahead and laying the groundwork for a monumental shift that will help all of us do our best work.
Building for tomorrow
We’ve begun exploring ways to enable productivity tools on the Quest platform. The VR platform of the future must allow people to multitask efficiently, navigate apps seamlessly, and connect with others easily. Tomorrow’s VR platform should improve upon the tools of today, but more important, it should enable entirely new ways of working. At the heart of this new experience is a flexible and infinite workspace that will allow teams and individuals to define their working environment from anywhere in the world.
As an early step, we recently launched the new Quest system experience with a redesigned universal menu that allows for multitasking with multiple browser windows, improved app switching, and easier access to core settings. We’ve also enabled the ability to choose Passthrough as your background while using Oculus Browser or other system apps so you can remain aware of your surroundings while you’re browsing the web, chatting with friends, or watching videos while wearing Quest.
We’ve been working to expand these ideas even further. In the future, we could create a super-powered augmented workspace with multiple customizable screens in VR, unbounded from the limits of physical monitors. It would leverage technologies like Passthrough to create a mixed reality productivity experience that allows people to switch between real and virtual worlds at any time, improving spatial awareness while offering the flexibility we’re accustomed to with laptops and other common devices. By combining the flexibility of new inputs like hand tracking with the familiarity of everyday input devices like a keyboard and mouse, we could give people the best of both worlds.
This new concept demo shown here gives you a taste of what this could look like. With seamless desktop integration and networked social features, you could be productive from anywhere in the world and sit alongside colleagues virtually — a new way to get things done.
Advancements in social presence
At the root of this quantum leap is genuine social presence. That is, authentic and lifelike collaboration between people and colleagues in a virtual setting, where anyone can manipulate objects (real and virtual) using their hands and sense of touch. Avatars would convey complex emotions with all the subtlety of human expression, and audio from voices and other sources would sound like they do in the real world. Still many years away, this is a massive undertaking that requires groundbreaking technology in the areas of AI, computer vision, spatial audio, and 3D graphics.
Codec Avatars are one of the cornerstones needed for higher social presence. Using novel capture technology and AI systems, Codec Avatars could let people in the future create lifelike virtual avatars of themselves quickly and easily, helping social connections in VR become as natural and familiar as those in the real world. Today, much of the human nuance we experience every day is lost while working remotely. For many, this harms work relationships and the creative flow between people. We know people feel more isolated. It’s harder to establish new relationships or collaborate on ambiguous projects. Building Codec Avatars is an incredibly complex technical challenge, but our goal couldn’t be more straightforward. It’s about making interactions with people in VR, and eventually AR, as natural and effortless as they are with someone right in front of you.
We’re also hard at work advancing the technology to enable better hand tracking. From gesturing and communicating to manipulating everyday objects, our hands play an essential role in how we interact with the world. They’re key to unlocking true presence in a virtual space and the world around us. Hand tracking on Quest, as mentioned above, is an early example of what computer vision and deep learning can achieve. With an SDK, developers are already exploring the potential for enabling more expressive gestures everywhere from meeting rooms to surgical simulations. In research, we’re exploring advancements in haptics for a richer, more realistic sense of physicality.
Social presence requires another important ingredient: sound. Specifically, it requires a technology called spatial audio. Today, when you call friends or colleagues, their voices sound like they’re coming from the phone itself. If you’re wearing headphones, it may seem like their voices are coming from the center of your head. Your brain rejects the idea that the person speaking is physically present in the same room as you. Spatial audio mimics the directions sounds come from in real life and makes for an incredibly convincing experience — one you need to hear to believe.
After years of research, we succeeded in shipping our first spatial audio solution in 2017, on the Oculus SDK, and a year later we shipped acoustic simulation technologies that make VR environments even more believable. This spatial audio technology was a step ahead of the entire industry. Since then, our research teams have been working on simulating the acoustics of a real room to create an even more realistic experience. Because the shape of your ear changes how you perceive sound, our researchers and engineers are also exploring how to personalize spatial audio for each individual. We’ll share more on this research in the coming months, but here’s a sneak peek.
The future of work
When we think about the future of work, these innovations in productivity tools are just the beginning. What comes next is where the real transformation happens. Virtual reality and augmented reality represent a better way for people to connect and build relationships with one other and the world around them. A world with fewer screens, where commuting means putting on or taking off a headset, and spending less time choosing between work and family. It will empower people to work together in ways that aren’t possible today, leading to fresh ideas and new endeavors in entertainment, education, and beyond. There’s a long road ahead, but we’re thrilled to share where we are today and even more excited to share our vision for the future.