All the rich Zuckerbergs and like-minded tech bros of the world are convinced that the future is all of us living, loving, and working in a virtual reality “metaverse.” But a new study’s findings suggest that working in virtual reality will not actually increase a worker’s productivity, comfort, or wellbeing. Quite the opposite in fact.
As spotted by PC Gamer, an experiment was carried out by a research team at Coburg University in Germany. The folks gathered together 16 individuals, 10 men and 6 women, and had them work for a week in VR using basic desktop setups and Oculus Quest 2 VR headsets. The results of this week-long study were then published in a paper titled “Quantifying the Effects of Working in VR for One Week.” Very catchy!
The week-long study suggests that working in VR seems to lower productivity and can cause migraines, too.
Participants worked for seven days in VR, with 45-minute lunch breaks, and were asked multiple times throughout each day to grade their VR experience compared to working in a normal, real-world office across 10 stats, including perceived productivity, frustration, wellbeing, and anxiety. Participants were also asked specific VR-related questions, like if they felt sick, or if their eyes were starting to hurt. The research team also monitored their heartbeats and typing speed.
It turns out study participants felt like they had more work to do than in a normal office and felt more anxious and stressed while trying to do their jobs in VR. This lead to a 14% drop in self-described productivity, with “frustration” increasing by over 40% compared to baseline. This all contributed to an overall decrease in mental wellbeing. And as you might expect, participants variously suffered from increased eye strain, visual fatigue, nausea, and migraines as a result of spending so much time in virtual reality.
Two people actually had to drop out of the study due to frequent migraines and high levels of frustration, nausea, and disorientation before the end of the study’s first day.
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To be clear, this is just one study in a field that is still fairly young. In fact, one of the main goals behind conducting it was to provide data that future researchers can build on for further investigation into the topic.
Some might be inclined to blame the negative findings on the hardware/software the study used—which included Chrome Remote Desktop and off-the-shelf budget VR headsets—but the paper explains that the researchers purposely used average tech as this is closer to your average desktop experience. And look, if the future is the metaverse, it has to work for everyone with all budgets, not just the well-off who can afford $3,000 PCVR setups.
But yeah, overall, not great news for the Zuck. To wrap up, here’s the research team’s conclusion from the paper:
Overall, this study helps lay the groundwork for subsequent research, highlighting current shortcomings and identifying opportunities for improving the experience of working in VR. We hope this work will stimulate further research investigating longer-term productive work in-situ in VR.