A new era of communications and productivity has dawned, thanks to a wave of modern Virtual Reality (VR) hardware and software.
Offering a virtual event that replaces our physical existence with a digitally created world, VR allows us to experience situations or places far from our own environment.
For many chief technology officers tasked with keeping their enterprise on the cutting-edge of tech developments, this year comes with a very optimistic prognosis.
With the release of premium VR headsets, Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, in April, everything we know about business is about to change. But after witnessing, and maybe being baffled by, the last few years of VR propaganda, you're likely thinking, 'yes, but how will it change?'
For Stephen Minnett, director of design and architectural agency, Futurespace, VR will, "close the gap in quality between physical connections and electronic connections".
"After that initial impact, the way we interact with data and other people will be profoundly changed by Augmented Reality (AR)."
Rise of the machines
VR innovation has been closely paralleled by the rise of AR – technology that inserts digitally-generated video and audio elements into the world around us, thereby enhancing our experience of reality.
AR has actually been around for a number of years, used in simple smartphone apps. Ikea has developed one such app that allows users to position and move furniture around a room, simply by holding up a phone camera and inserting digital furniture and items into the displayed picture.
At the same time, digital innovation in communications has afforded us greater flexibility and control of time and resources.
Right now, companies small and large have easy access to video call and conferencing facilities, project management via smartphone apps, cloud-based resource management tools, and simplified telecommuting methods.
Minnett believes VR and AR will now take commonplace technology like this a bold step further.
"Businesses will initially use VR and AR for training courses and attendance at conferences – virtually rather than physically," Minnett says.
"[Other uses will include] meetings between people in disparate locations, interviews – which will allow better 'reading' of expressions and body language – and visualising and experiencing a space before it is built. These are just the obvious initial applications – the scope is limitless."
A component of Futurespace's services, called FutureVision, uses futurist principles to do just that; envision your future workspace – from the design and layout, to the management of human resources and technology – to help plan and predict growth, all before the first stone is laid.
Beyond current applications, you can expect VR and AR to open up future avenues of employment for those living in remote locations or those differently abled.
"The improvement in the quality of communication through VR will greatly improve the ability of an organisation to harness its best human resources to work collaboratively," Minnett predicts.
"Remote working will become more productive as these new technologies improve the quality of interactions for people in disparate locations.
"The benefits to people with a range of disabilities will also enable their wider participation in the workforce."
Scenarios such as these are the linchpin of future AR technology, such as Microsoft's premium headset offering, HoloLens.
While a commercial version of the hardware won't be available for another year, HoloLens is already being positioned as a powerful tool to facilitate virtual presence in one location from another workplace.
For example, HoloLens will allow a teacher to step into a seemingly empty room that will populate with virtual students from around the world, eager to start their lessons for the day.
Apply the same principle to medicine and a doctor on one side of the globe could supervise a patient in critical care located on the other. To the attending nurses wearing AR headsets, the doctor will appear to be standing right next to them.
If you think this possibility is a step too far into science-fiction, think again. You may already use AR and not realise it.
"An increasing number of cars employ AR to project information onto the windscreen in front of the driver," Minnett says.
"More sophisticated versions of this technology are used in aviation and military applications, but more business-orientated applications, through products like HoloLens, are starting to show the potential for business right now – not in the future."
As VR and AR hardware continues to emerge and enhance various aspects of our business, pleasure and leisure pursuits, what was once a sci-fi vision of the future is now coming into sharper focus.
Scroll through the gallery at the top of the page to see the latest advancements in VR.