Group Editor Marty Kauchak completed a wide-ranging interview with Marlo Brooke, CEO and Founder of Avatar Partners.
Marty Kauchak (MK): Marlo, thanks for taking time to speak with Halldale. Let’s start at the strategic, overarching level. Share with us your perspectives about the state of this community, in particular, at this point of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Marlo Brooke (MB): Companies and employees are thinking differently about the workplace in a post-COVID economy. As a company that specializes in immersive reality and augmented reality (AR), we have seen increased interest for virtual collaborative products that remotely connect dispersed workers. We’re also seeing that companies are considering how to optimize productivity and employee satisfaction in a virtual work environment, which also has positive implications for reducing fixed overhead costs, such as facilities. With a purely office-based workforce, whether sales increase or get worse, companies are stuck with the same overhead.
Technology continues to mature to enable a socially and emotionally connected virtual workforce – and other important human factors aspects that would sustain long-term virtualization. As human beings we are social creatures, with an ingrained emotional need to connect meaningfully with others. In other words, extended reality (XR) technology should give employees realistic experiences of feeling as though they are realistically with others, in life size, with eye contact. XR can support a true energy exchange between people that promotes creativity, organization, respect, and passion for the job. Whereas Zoom and other similar video-people-in-a-box type of solutions are a short term quick-fix, they don’t address the significance of human-to-human connection. For example, Zoom doesn’t enable actual eye contact, and looking at oneself in a brady-bunch style grid naturally makes us self-conscious. We have solutions today that bridge the gap between distance and connection – providing an entire or partially remote workforce to experience the human connection that we all need, while also being accountable and present.
MK: What about developing these solutions?
MB: Great question. With the significantly increased need for human-factors based virtual technology, we have an overall resource shortage, even in major metropolitan areas like Southern California where we are headquartered. While this area is a mecca of gaming and virtual reality skillsets, we need a wide variety of skillsets, including effective design and storyboarding, business and performance analysis, mechanical skills, and the ability to translate procedures into high-impact virtualized solutions that support the social and emotional needs of employees. We turn to the partners in our own ecosystem to fill the gap; it does take a village. People don’t want to spend their day wearing heavy glasses to communicate with others.
MK: And one solution to this emerging vision?
MB: We are working with and extending our college involvement, including University of California, Irvine and Auburn University, who have highly reputable computer science curricula. We are providing students free trial licenses of SimplifyXR, our enterprise XR software development tool, so students can extend their skills beyond the basic XR languages such as Unity or Unreal, and develop true enterprise solutions that businesses need from day one – these are high-paying skillsets.