Companies and researchers will develop digital artefacts to support the future hybrid workplace

What should the next generation of Zoom and Teams look like? This question will be expored by researchers and companies in a new DIREC project led by Associate Professor Eve Hoggan. The project will gather researchers from universities all over Denmark, as well as several industrial collaborators. Hoggan will lead the project REWORK, which will re-think and develop the future of hybrid work forms.

Photo by Søren Kjeldgaard

There are a multitude of reasons to embrace remote and hybrid work. Climate concerns are increasing, borders are difficult to cross, work/life balance may be easier to attain, power distributions in society could potentially be redressed, to name a few. This means that the demand for systems that support hybrid work will increase significantly.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic, and the attendant lockdown, demonstrated the potential benefits and possibilities of remote work practices, as well as the glaring deficiencies such practices bring. Zoom fatigue, resulting from high cognitive loads and intense amounts of eye contact, is just the tip of an uncomfortable iceberg where the problem of embodied presence remains a stubborn limitation.

The research project REWORK: The Futures of Hybrid Work, led by associate professor Eve Hoggan, aims to enrich digital technologies for hybrid work. The goal is to design and develop artefacts and processes to support organizations in exploring and preparing for successful collaboration in the future.

Remote and hybrid work will certainly be part of the future of most work practices, but what should these future work practices look like?

“I think we need to aim higher than merely fixing the systems we already have,” says associate professor Eve Hoggan, and continues; “We need to be bolder and consider a different future for our workplace if we want to secure successful collaboration. And that is what REWORK is all about. We will, in particular, focus on representation of embodiment and physical surroundings in a digital/analog setting, as this is one of the most important obstacles for successful hybrid work.”

Bankdata is a company which needs such tools. To them it is crucial to be able to attract and retain the best employees. According to Peter Bering, Head of Digitalization at Bankdata, the workplace must be flexible with good opportunities for socializing, and in this regard the company’s digital products play an important role.

“The hybrid workplace is more than just a good video connection. It should also be characterized by a high level of commitment, creativity and cohesion, which is not easy to achieve with the technology we use today. But we are ambitious in this area, and therefore we have decided to engage in – and not least contribute to – the latest research in the field through a collaboration with DIREC,” says Peter Bering.

Lene Bach Graversen, Head of Facility at Arla, hopes that in the project will provide more digital tools that can support the agile collaboration at a distance.

“Like many other companies, we do not know exactly what will happen in the future. We hope that the feedback and knowledge we gain can direct our focus towards what tools are needed by the employees to optimize their online meetings, which have become a regular part of our work. Many of our employees work both at home and at the office, and we see that it offers advantages as well as disadvantages. We need to look at other available tools and how to develop them so that we can continue to support our employees. The strength of collaborating is that you learn from each other.”

Mads Troelsgaard, CEO and co-founder of SynergyXR, participates in the project to knowledge-share with the universities, but also because they want to make their AR/VR and Mixed Reality platform available for the project. For the past ten years, SynergyXR has developed AR/VR and Mixed Reality applications for some of the largest companies in the world.

On their platform, you can meet colleagues in Hololens, with VR glasses or in a room on a PC, and in this way explain complicated knowledge on a completely different level than is possible on Zoom or Teams. The companies may also upload videos, photos, pdf files or other, and in this way establish their own AR/VR setup. They build ‘the corporate metaverse’, where companies can build their own metaverse.

A lot of things appeal to us in this collaboration. We have a platform that is easy to access, and which provides the opportunity to meet in a completely new way, and which changes the way companies collaborate at a distance. In addition, we would like to contribute with our many years of experience as tech specialists within XR technology. In return, we hope to gain a lot of new knowledge both about what’s happening out there, but also to get feedback on our platform. We can also help train future employees to better understand the potential of XR technology which is another advantage. In this way, we see a lot of ‘wins’ from the collaboration”.

About DIREC – Digital Research Centre Denmark

The purpose of the national research centre DIREC is to bring Denmark at the forefront of the latest digital technologies through world-class digital research. To meet the great demand for highly educated IT specialists, DIREC also works to expand the capacity within both research and education of computer scientists. The centre has a total budget of DKK 275 million and is supported by the Innovation Fund Denmark with DKK 100 million. The partnership consists of a unique collaboration across the computer science departments at Denmark’s eight universities and the Alexandra Institute.

The activities in DIREC are based on societal needs, where research is continuously translated into value-creating solutions in collaboration with the business community and the public sector. The projects operate across industries with focus on artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, algorithms and cybersecurity among others.

Read more at direc.dk

REWORK

In ReWork, the following parties will participate as collaborators:

  • Aarhus University
  • Copenhagen University
  • IT University of Copenhagen
  • RUC
  • Alexandra Institute
  • Catch (Center for Art, Design, and Technology)
  • Microsoft Research, Cambridge UK
  • L&T InfoTech
  • Khora
  • Zimulate
  • KeyLoop
  • Studio Koh
  • Synergy XR
  • Lead
  • BEC
  • Cadpeople
  • Bankdata
  • Arla

Contact: 
Eve Hoggan
Department of Computer Science
Aarhus University
M: +45 93 50 85 56
eve.hoggan@cs.au.dk

Follow the project on cs.au.dk/rework or on Twitter @ReWork_Direc