Two product ideas for hybrid working

17.17, Monday 12 Apr 2021

Hybrid working is the idea we won’t go back to working in an office after the pandemic, not entirely, but nor we will go fully remote. Instead we’ll mix it up.

Augmented ambience

There’s something neat about having desk neighbours – it allows for teams but also cross-team connections. But if you’re at home 2 days/week, working out of cafes 1 day/week, and hot-desking at the office the rest of the time, how can that work?

Imagine your desk has a fixed position but in a virtual office layout.

Now let’s imagine that on the physical office desks, and on your home office desk, you have an array of small speakers around the perimeter of the desk. The speakers also have microphones. This is the product.

When you sit down to work, you sign in, and you hear directionally accurate sound from your virtual neighbours, as if you’re in adjacent cubicles – keyboard tapping, chair scraping, coughs, and so on. Sound from your workstation is also picked up and transmitted.

Voices would be detected by AI and automatically muffled.

Bonus points: if you’ve got spatial audio-enabled headphones, like the Apple AirPods Max, you don’t need the special speakers. You can hear your virtual neighbours even when you’re working remotely from, say, a plane. Assuming any of us ever fly anywhere ever again.

Drone zoom calls

This is a use-case for augmented reality smart glasses.

The idea is that you should be able to take Zoom calls when you’re out and about because, to me, hybrid working is also about incorporating walking.

I’ve seen people I know on Instagram skiing with follow-me drones. It turns out follow-me functionality is pretty great now: the drone maintains a consistent angle, dodges around trees, and so on. And that’s while the target is skiing!

So a follow-me drone made for Zoom calls should be way simpler. You would only be going at walking pace.

You still need to see the other person while you’re on the call, and that’s where the augmented reality smart glasses come in. They see you via a streaming cam on the drone; you see them via a hovering virtual screen projected in your glasses. (The glasses also have a built-in mic.)

See also previous thoughts about new office furniture, which referenced scorpion chairs and cyberpunk aprons.

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