When I started BNI in 1985, the most often asked question from the media was: “Is this networking thing just a fad?” Well, almost 34 years and more than 8,700 groups later – it’s clearly not a fad. There have been changes over time though. The biggest change has been the introduction of the internet. Ironically, online networking has contributed to the success of face-to-face networks by greatly reducing the communication hierarchy and allowing people to communicate through online platforms (including walled gardens just for members). I saw a trend relating to the integration of face-to-face and online networking eight years ago, and I wrote about eight years ago. [i]
According to the Small Business Administration, today around “50% of all small businesses are home-based,” [ii] and according to the BBC, “nearly half of the US workforce is expected to work remotely by 2020.” [iii] This means that 50% or more of future entrepreneurs and employees will be working remotely within the next few years.
Today, I see an even more amazing trend on the horizon as it relates to remote work, technology, and business networking. That trend is the emergence of Mixed Reality within the realm of personal networking. Mixed Reality is “the merging of real and virtual worlds where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time.” Mixed reality takes place not only in the physical world or the virtual world but is a mix of reality and virtual reality.” [iv]
“Mixed reality lets the user see the real world… while also seeing believable, virtual objects… It then anchors those virtual objects to a point in real space, making it possible to treat them as ‘real,’ at least from the perspective of the person who can see the mixed reality experience.” [v]
As this technology develops, it will allow remote teams to work together and tackle objectives no matter where the individuals are physically located. People can enter a collaborative, immersive virtual environment in order to “develop and activate relationships, to increase business, enhance knowledge, expand one’s sphere of influence, or serve the community.” In other words – network.[vi] And, in the not too distant future, I predict that they will be able to do that remotely through a Mixed Reality environment.
I believe the future of networking is a blending of the physical world with the digital world. According to Microsoft, “Mixed Reality is the next evolution in human, computer, and environment interaction and unlocks possibilities that before now were restricted to our imaginations” (see Venn Diagram). [vii]
One of the current missing elements of a video discussion is the lack of intimacy with the online communication. However, as this technology advances, people will be better able to read non-verbal language like crossed arms, leaning in, signs of nervousness, or other non-verbal queues that can be missed in a two-dimensional discussion. People attach value to the feeling of physically sharing space with another person. The more technology enables that feeling to mirror reality, the more effective it will be because as science has shown, the brain is often unable to determine what is real and what is not as it relates to virtual reality.
You may be thinking that this is an idea that is decades away – but it’s not. Bjorn Laurin, Vice President of product development at Lindon Lab predicts that virtual-meetings will “become as commonplace as owning an iPhone – within 5 to10 years!” [viii]
True, it is not the same as being there – but it will be getting closer and closer to the Jedi Knights and their holographic meetings as seen in Star Wars.
When that time comes – I want to be Obi-Wan Kenobi. I’m just saying.