AR and VR for Business: Where Immersive Technology Is Driving Real Value
It's easy to get swept up in the talk around the potential of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in the workplace: It will revolutionize the way we collaborate. It will change the way we think about meetings. It will streamline every task with the blink of an eye.
But a lot of that is hype, what-ifs and possibilities.
The ABC of Immersive Technologies
First, let’s break down the acronyms, starting at the top.
The umbrella over all of this immersive technology is XR, which stands for extended reality. XR encapsulates VR and AR, but also mixed reality (MR) and anything in between.
An IBM study found that companies that use technologies under the XR umbrella see significant benefits.
- Companies using AR technologies saw a 46% reduction in time to complete tasks.
- VR-based training can reduce training time by 40%.
- VR-based training can improve employee performance by 70%.
Immersive technology can also help attract and retain technical talent. Around 44% of Millennials believe their workplaces are not “smart” enough — and in just five years, this generation will make up 75% of the global workforce.
VR and AR Use Cases for the Workplace
So how exactly are companies using VR and AR today?
Recruitment and Onboarding
Virtual reality can create a highly engaging experience for candidates and employees, thus boosting interest in the organization and driving performance from the start.
“VR can be used to simulate job tasks and environments, allowing candidates and new employees to gain hands-on experience in a safe, controlled environment,” said James Bledsoe, talent acquisition and retention manager at ADDIUM. “This can help reduce training costs and improve performance.”
Some organizations have seen success using VR and AR games during the recruitment process, with the goal of evaluating behavior and testing collaboration skills. For example, one game might be a group scenario where the team must escape from a virtual room by following clues and solving puzzles.
VR is also an excellent tool for onboarding, Bledsoe said, by helping new hires understand the company culture and values, as well as their role within the organization.
Training and Development
A lot of current use cases for AR and VR for business reside in employee training and development because the technology allows for testing in a safe environment, something that's not always possible with traditional training and yet is essential in industries with a degree of danger — manufacturing, for example.
“VR can be used to simulate hazardous work environments, allowing employees to practice safety protocols in a risk-free environment,” said Bledsoe.
NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough uses a virtual reality headset to train for upcoming spacewalks.
Virtual reality, along with augmented reality, can also assist with soft skills training programs by allowing employees to test their leadership skills or simulating bias, harassment or discrimination scenarios for a diversity, equity and inclusion training program, for instance.
One study from PwC found that VR training specifically has big benefits for workplace leaners:
- VR learners train 4x faster than those in a classroom in the physical world.
- Learners using VR training are 275% more confident in applying the skills they've learned.
- VR training makes employees feel 3.75 times more connected to content.
- Virtual reality learners are 4 times more focused than e-learning peers.
Related Article: How Companies Use VR in the Workplace
Zoom fatigue is real. Around one in four workers say they are worn out by the number of video calls at work.
“People are looking for alternative ways to engage and connect with their colleagues — a kind of virtual water cooler but way cooler,” said said Alex Sheshunoff, co-founder and CEO of RemoteBridge.
Meanwhile, remote work is not going anywhere. Although only 15% of LinkedIn job posts are for remote-only positions, those positions receive half of all applications.
“It’s clear to me that many companies will continue to be remote or hybrid going forward, making it all the more important for HR teams to promote company culture in virtual settings — especially when being in person is cost- or logistically prohibitive.”
Tapping into immersive technologies to improve this facet of work can be a game-changer.
Health & Wellness
Around 80% of US businesses with more than 50 employees offer a corporate wellness program. But with 77% of professionals saying they’ve experienced burnout at their current job, there’s room for improvement.
“VR can be used to create immersive wellness programs that encourage employees to adopt healthy habits, such as exercise and meditation, and promote overall well-being,” said Bledsoe.
He pointed to the example of using VR to create a calming environment, such as meditation rooms or nature scenes. These environments can help employees better manage stress and anxiety.
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Organizations can also look to virtual or augmented reality sports and activities. VR and AR games, such as tennis, mini golf, ultimate frisbee, basketball, even yoga, encourage employees to stay active, even in the office.
Employees want remote, flexible work — and some employers are keen too, eyeing benefits like reduced overhead, increased productivity and a wider talent pool to draw from.
Augmented reality and virtual reality play an important role in the future of remote work. “VR can be used to create virtual office environments that help remote workers feel more connected and engaged with their teams," said Bledsoe.
“It can also be used to simulate in-person meetings and events, allowing remote workers to participate in a more immersive way.”
Think of a meeting where, with your VR or AR headset, you join a virtual world full of avatars, with each avatar representing a person at the company. These avatars can move around the virtual space, interact (shake hands, sit near one another) and generally offer more connection than a video call — though this scenario comes with drawbacks (more on that below).
Related Article: How Gamification, VR and AR Boost Employee Engagement
What to Consider Before Investing in Workplace AR and VR
AR and VR have real value in the workplace today, and that value will likely grow in the coming years. Projections from PwC show that these two technologies have the potential to add $1.5 trillion in value to the global economy by 2030.
But before racing to adoption, it’s worth mentioning a few considerations.
The first thing to look at, according to Bledsoe, is confidentiality — or the security of personal information. “You have to be very careful in these areas and avoid trying too much too soon without ensuring the security aspect of personal information of colleagues and clients.”
For that reason, Sheshunoff said IT departments must get involved.
“VR and AR both require downloads, so in a corporate environment concerned about security, this raises serious issues for the IT department,” he said.
It’s also important to note that VR and AR are tough on computers and require advanced graphics cards. “VR and AR gatherings are often limited to a few dozen people at a time," he said, "and to keep the processing load down, most avatars don't have legs, which is weird.
“To us, movement is the key. If your avatar isn't moving around — in, say, a team building exercise or onboarding training — you are not taking advantage of being in a 3D space, and you might as well be on Zoom where you can at least see people's expressions.”
The Long-term Value of AR and VR for Business
Real-life learning will never go away. But do AR and VR teaching methods and environments have staying power?
They will certainly play a role in the gaming industry, said Sheshunoff. But he also sees a bright future for them in sectors like engineering and architecture, for client walk-throughs, as well as specialized medical applications, like guided surgery.
Beyond that, Bledsoe believes every industry should at least consider offering internships in VR to young professionals, something he’s done with his own HR curriculum.
“I learned a lot during that time, and I expect to do it again, implementing improvements where needed.”
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