Exploring XR Collaboration Statistics in Real-Time, with National Research Group’s Lauren Xandra

There’s not a lot of good coming out of the current situation affecting the globe, but if there is an upside, it’s the rare opportunity to learn from something this unprecedented. Through her work with National Research Group, today’s guest Lauren Xandra has been able to study newly-emerging work-from-home behaviours, and how that applies to XR adoption.

Alan: Hey everyone, I’m Alan Smithson from the XR for Business Podcast, and today we’re speaking with Lauren Xandra, vice president of strategy and innovation at National Research Group, a leading global insights and strategy firm, about the original research on XR, AR, and collaborations in a time of Covid-19. All that more coming up next on the XR for Business Podcast.

Lauren, welcome to the show.

Lauren: Thank you so much for having me, Alan.

Alan: It’s my absolute pleasure. I’m in day 22 of my quarantine. Nothing really has changed in my life, because I work from home anyway. So how are you doing?

Lauren: I’m doing well. It’s a healthy adjustment for me, but it’s rather timely that we’re here today, because I’m excited to share new research, looking at how different demographics are adapting to our work-from-home reality, and to share some exciting findings that we see in the space with new, broader, addressable audiences for virtual solutions in light of all of this.

Alan: Well, the timing on this couldn’t be any better. Some dedicated, hard-working people in this industry have banded together this week to pull together an XR Collaboration guide, talking about everything from security to device management to vendor selection to feature lists, and really put a lot of effort into creating a tool online that will give people the opportunity to figure out how these tools can be used for their business or school or education, and which one is the right one for them at the time, for the need they have. And so we’re really excited about that, and the information on that will come out on XRCollaboration.com. So, Lauren, please tell me, what is the basis of this study?

Lauren: Sure. So, when suddenly millions of people — seemingly overnight — became remote workers, we’re faced with these huge questions about productivity, state of mind, social and cultural impact of the situation, and the lasting impact, too. We really set out to understand how people are adapting, what pain points are felt across work-from-home, and in doing that, we can better understand and address whitespace to solve for these pain points, to ease our adjustment to this new — and bizarre — reality.

I’d love to walk you through some of the key findings, perhaps starting with generational differences in adapting, and then perhaps looking at more industry-specific challenges and opportunities.

Alan: Sounds wonderful. Let’s let’s dig in.

Lauren: So we see that the pre-Covid-19 context really impacts different generations’ concerns and expectations for the future. Probably one of the most counterintuitive insights is that the youngest in the workforce is actually the least well-equipped for work-from-home. The digital reliance of this generation already makes them victims of social distance pre-Covid-19, and for them, the effects of isolation are amplified. The impact of Covid-19 on culture is really their front-of-mind concern. And here we’re thinking about culture in terms of how we connect, how we collaborate. Gen Z has really struggled to disconnect from technology. They’re citing irritation from too much screentime, bad work/life balance, well ahead of other groups. And this impacts mental health, with already about half of Gen Z professionals saying that staying home all day makes them depressed.

And further still, they’re lacking the necessary technical and environmental setup to be as productive. We see this as a really key audience to benefit from potential that AR and VR presents. Firstly, AR and VR has a big base of Gen Z users, with about 40 percent identifying as users of both AR and VR. They’re just waiting for the experiences. I would love to learn more about what’s on that collaboration list, because there’s so many possibilities for how AR and VR can viably engage employees, maintain focus, enhance creativity and connection — particularly for this young group that’s suffering from missed face-time and interaction mentorship.

Alan: Being able to regain some normalcy in places that are familiar; I think there’s going to be a big need for companies to recreate their traditional workspaces digitally. Like, when you go to office, you feel like you’re in the office. When you’re at your home, it’s not the same. Everybody has become their own I.T. department, which is terrifying.

Lauren: Yes, I’m sure we’ve all seen amusing examples of colleagues’ children running towards the screen and being blurred out into the Zoom background and the rest. Some really interesting virtual solutions have emerged, and will continue to. A personal favorite is Spaces. I love the concept of using virtual cameras as a webcam, so you can make use of equipment that’s not actually available in your real-world environment, like a VR whiteboard, and communicate progress and integrate into existing apps like Zoom and Google Hangouts. I think we’ll really continue to see exciting solutions like that present themselves.

Alan: It’s an amazing story actually. I know the guys at Spaces. They went from a company 100 percent focused on location-based entertainment — and of course, all location-based entertainment is shut down — and they pivoted in a very short amount of time to create a tool that allows you to be in VR and see your Zoom calls, and the Zoom call people can see you in VR. And they pulled that off in weeks, from pivoting from location-based arcade games to a business tool that we can use. It’s really incredible. That team is very talented.

Lauren: Yeah, that’s fascinating to hear about that fast pivot. And there’s certainly — beyond this younger generation’s collaboration tools — so many other demographics and industries [that] stand to benefit from other solutions. When we look at more mature professionals like X-ers who’ve already lived through layoffs and significant hardship with the recession, they’re much more concerned about the economy by a great margin, while ahead of concerns about culture, social, or their personal life, their own professional development. But there’s some silver lining too; they’re more pro-work-from-home, because they’re more self-sufficient. They generally don’t mind staying inside for long periods of time, and might enjoy the benefits of freedom and convenience.

Alan: Everybody, as they get older and have kids and stuff, they move out to the suburbs, so they got a little bit of extra space. Living in a 500 square foot condo is pretty awesome. The whole city is your living room. But when your living room is your living room, people are going to go nuts.

Lauren: Yes. And you’re right. I mean, this group has more space, generally-speaking, and is more likely to be parents, of course. But parents generally, we see that the top paying point is distraction. And that makes sense.

Alan: I keep muting myself because my kids are banging around upstairs, I’m not sure what’s happening. But I can tell you from a distraction standpoint — my kids are older, so I don’t have to deal with them all the time. They’ve got things that we’ve given them to do — but I can tell you, if you had a two-year-old running around? There’s no way you could be productive at home. So the new normal is a culture shock to people.

Lauren: Absolutely. Yeah. And the need for e-learning to improve is sudden and significant. Families adjusting to school closures, through to medical professionals who are continuing to practice important procedures from remote locations.

Alan: The amount of use cases for this technology are endless, and they’re not difficult to create these scenarios, and the tools for creating rich, 3D scenarios are starting to become easier and easier. So I think we’re going to see both the adoption of the headsets much quicker than we would have anticipated, but also the ability to create experiences and create from within experiences. I think this is going to be a huge opportunity for the whole industry to shine.

Why don’t we talk about some real numbers? Can you maybe walk us through the numbers of this?

Lauren: Sure. So, this was fielded March 14th to 15th, so we’re a few weeks deep. And we’re planning a second wave as well in a couple of weeks’ time.

We surveyed over 1,000 people here in the US, with criteria being that they must be either currently work from home or have worked from home in the past, and it’s across 18 to 54 years old. So it’s a professional audience here in the US, a reasonably-sized base, 1,010 — a nationally-representative sample. Any other questions around size? Around the audience for this?

Alan: Well, audience size, you nailed. What did you ask them, and what were the results?

In addition to better understanding what areas were front-of-mind concerns — which we touched on a little bit here [on the podcast] — how certain audiences are more concerned about the economy or the market, particularly more mature audiences.

Alan: That’s interesting that the age groups have different concerns at the same time. Where does health concerns fall? If you to compare health concerns vs. economic concerns?

Lauren: We actually didn’t include health concerns, thinking that health concerns would be really front-of-mind for all audiences. It would be interesting to better understand that, but we kind of thought about it across the framework of more kind of “Macro vs Micro.”

Alan: Maybe you could include that in Wave 2: rank these concerns. Because I think the health care one. My prediction… I mean, I don’t know. But my hypothesis would be that younger people would rank health less, because they’re not fearing of it. As you get older, the fear goes up.

Lauren: Absolutely.

Alan: The ranking gets reprioritized.

Lauren: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, what we did look at was in terms of more how health care professionals are adapting to this remote work norm, and how their experience is similar and different to other industries going through this. And we actually see that their concerns are pretty closely aligned with those of education professionals. They’re struggling both with distraction, but also missed access to the devices that they have at work, which makes a ton of sense. And of course, part of that is e-learning, which we are just speaking about. And another is, of course, turning to VR in 3D formats to better approximate real-life interactions. Because crossing the chasm to virtual requires a major practical shift in how business is done for this group.

Alan: How are the opinions different in healthcare and education, as opposed to the business community? Was there a breakdown of that at all?

Lauren: Yes. So we see that the types of experiences that they are gravitating towards are much higher for learning experiences, and then a range that makes sense in approximating real-life interactions. So, things like traveling anywhere in the world in VR, visiting remote sites as if you were there; 3D object identification and training to, of course, improve workflow processes and engage with 3D objects virtually in real time; then thirdly, holographic communication or communicating in real-time, to get close to real social exchange.

Alan: So one could almost say “XR Collaboration.”

Lauren: Yes, XR collaboration is certainly broad brush strokes to capture their needs. These professionals too are much more secure about their own career and professional development. Of course, this is a real time of need for them, but that’s not true at all across the board. When we look at retail, hospitality professionals, other areas who rely upon in-person business but who are suffering more financially, already we see two and three have heightened concerns about their own career and professional development. And of course, I think everyone’s come across research by Harvard Business School that the average small/medium businesses have 27 days of cash. Right? And Main Street has an average of 16 days, making the speed of adjustment to new norms really urgent. And another finding through this is that, when we look globally — and this is based on some other research we’ve done tracking Covid-19 — the impact globally, we see that the financial concerns of employees across geographies sort of correlate with where they sit in the Covid-19 curve cycle. So here in the US, 57 percent of employees believe the current situation is getting worse economically, whereas in France and Spain, they’ve potentially reached the bottom and may foreshadow the trajectory for the US and others. They’re starting to see and feel a financial return — it maybe early to say — but we kind of see these early economic indicators that are quite interesting, too.

Alan: Incredible. The whole world is adjusting to a new normal. Now, how we adjust and how we adapt will dictate the future of the next exponential age of humanity. And I really kind of think this — philosophically — at least we’re giving the earth a break before the real pounding begins. And what usually comes out of recessions and the hard times and every time we’ve gone through something like this global challenge — never before have we, first of all, had a combined challenge against humanity — so hopefully this brings us together rather than pushes apart. I think there’s an opportunity here for the whole world to band together, not only to get out of this and be successful; Peter Diamandis predicts more wealth will be created in the next 10 years than all of previous human history. And I think this is more so than ever, because what this will do is give us an opportunity to realize what’s important: what is important to our families? What do we really need? What is an essential service? And also, we’re going to find efficiencies where there were none. Every time you go through in a recession or depression, businesses find new opportunities for efficiency. And I think A.I. automation, robotics, virtual/augmented reality — all of these things coming together at one time, and you have everybody pushing on these levers, and the whole thing grinds to a halt. But people are still working on these technologies and it’s gonna get amplified. So when the economy comes back online, whenever it is — maybe it’s a month, maybe three. Who knows? — but when it starts to come online again, I believe this will be the beginning of exponential growth as we know it.

Lauren: Absolutely. And I love how you emphasize how this growth really starts from a place of individual growth, from a place of reprioritization around what matters. Across broad research that I’ve done in the AR and VR space, one of the really unique benefits of this technology is around self-improvement. People see it as a medium for learning, for discovery, for becoming better versions of themselves. And in a small sense, we see, of course, a trend towards fitness in these times. Even in recent weeks, usage of Beat Saber for fitness is seriously ramped up. But in a bigger, broader sense, how we communicate — how we collaborate — is quickly changing. And I hope that this medium, and this time period for reflection, will enable more meaningful, more thoughtful interactions.

Alan: If we can’t see each other in person, the next best thing is being in a virtual space. And I thank you, Lauren. Is there anything else you want to share about the studies you’re working on?

Lauren: Sure. So the I’m thinking about how develop these solutions that can bring us closer together, now that we’re further apart. I’m also investigating, in this next wave of research, looking at the changing services market in light of Covid-19. So how our share of time and consumption of content and services are changing, and even our tastes; the tone of content that we’re interested in in these moments. What habits are likely to stick? These are all areas that will be coming out in a couple of weeks’ time. And also later in the year — this one is relevant for the XR community — we’ll be producing a study on the future of devices; what the new state of normal is, so to speak. Is it dual screen? Post-screen? One device for all? So we’re looking at that across entertainment, productivity, all kinds of contexts, for how we live and work.

Alan: It’s wonderful, being in this XR industry at this time, seeing how everybody’s pulling together. And most people that I talk to — even on this podcast, and most people that I talked to in my daily business — everybody’s concern is our health care first, and then our children’s education, and then the economy. It seems to be in that order in this industry. Anyway, it’ll be interesting to take a survey of just people working in this industry, and see how the mindset is different, because I think everybody I’ve spoken to in the last two weeks sees this as the beginning of a new way of working that XR are fundamentally drives. So I’m very excited about it.

Lauren: Absolutely happy to collaborate with you on that.

Alan: And we’re going to start to be doing LinkedIn Live sessions. So, conversations like this, and then we’ll be posting them as part of the podcast, so that we can just bring more information across a broader range of people. Some people don’t listen to podcasts. Maybe they’re sitting looking at LinkedIn. Maybe they’re on Twitter. So we’re going to try to spread this out as many places as possible.

Lauren, I always ask one last question; I think it’s more prudent than ever. What problems in the world do you want to see solved using XR Technologies?

Alan: I think I would love to see XR solve for a more connected community globally. I think it’s really powerful to see how accessible XR can make certain experiences for people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to enjoy those experiences. Whether that’s travelling anywhere, speaking to anyone without language barriers, the possibilities to connect with people in unexpected ways we wouldn’t otherwise. That’s a future I’m excited for. And I think it is very timely right now, in that creators have to think about developing for the long haul, in terms of virtual communication. And the longer this situation lasts, the real benefit is that the more pervasive these effective solutions for connecting will be.

Alan: Well said, Lauren, thank you so much. Thank you, everybody, for listening. This has been the XR for Business Podcast with your host Alan Smithson. And don’t forget to subscribe, so that you don’t miss any future episodes. Thank you again, Lauren. It’s been wonderful.

Lauren: Thank you so much.

Looking for more insights on XR and the future of business? Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or Spotify. You can also follow us on Twitter @XRforBusiness and connect with Alan on LinkedIn.

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