Yellow cardboard AR/VR glasses

How Gamification, VR and AR Boost Employee Engagement

June 14, 2022 Employee Experience
scott clark
By Scott Clark

Organizational leaders are striving to boost retention and drive employee engagement amid the Great Resignation and a shortage of skilled talent. But with so many opportunities out there, amplified by the fact that remote work has enabled workers to tap into a global job market, employers are having to get creative in their engagement strategy.

Some say emerging technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality and gamification can help.

“One of the best ways to engage workers is to harness their innate competitive nature with gamification techniques," said Peter Schnorbach, senior director of product management at Atlanta-based Manhattan Associates. "With gamification programs, as achievement increases, employees receive positive reinforcement through awards such as digital badges, medals and milestone markers." 

What Is Gamification?

Gamification is the use of principles and elements of game design in non-game activities such as learning and marketing. Gaming principles include challenges, competition, rewards and personalization.

According to the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning at Indiana University Bloomington, games facilitate a disposition toward collaboration, problem-solving, communication, experimentation and the exploration of identities. These attributes promote success in a rapidly changing information-based culture and contribute value to organizations that use gamification as part of the learning process.

The end result is a better employee experience, and increase in knowledge and the skills needed to solve challenges. When applied to learning and training, gamification also increases employee engagement, happiness and motivation by fostering a more interactive workplace.

"Virtual rewards are given instantly, connections with colleagues are improved, and seemingly mundane tasks are suddenly interactive and competitive, which boosts overall performance," Schnorbach said. "Ultimately, gamification improves employee experiences, leaving workers more engaged and happier in their roles, thus reducing churn and improving productivity in any enterprise.”

Gamification also helps training programs by tying in more modern methodologies, which is appealing to digital natives and technology workers.

"Using this format of learning keeps them highly engaged and produces a better-trained technician in a fraction of the time traditional methods normally take," said Mark Gervase, vice president of marketing at Austin-based Interplay Learning. "It’s faster, more efficient and saves time and money because there are fewer callbacks."

Related Article: What's Next for Employee Experience: New Platforms and New Paradigms

The Role of AR in Employee Engagement

Augmented reality (AR) is the experience of a real-world environment where real-world objects are enhanced by digitalized perceptual information, and virtual objects are able to appear within the real-world environment. Persistent AR facilitates the creation of content in the virtual space and enables the sharing of the experience with other users, such as a cook using a virtual oven to create digital pizzas that are shaped like car tires that can be seen and experienced by others in the virtual space.

The way AR works is straightforward: With an AR-enabled device such as glasses or a mobile device, users see data tags that pop up over virtual and real objects, providing details about the objects. Digital overlays appear on top of other objects so users can simultaneously see real and virtual objects in their field of view. Schematics can appear atop engines, diagrams can be expanded for enhanced details, and floating pointers can direct the user to the next step in a process, similar to the way that many video games start out with a virtual walkthrough. 

Using AR or virtual reality (VR) for on-the-job training — a practice otherwise known as immersive learning experiences — helps simplify otherwise difficult areas of the training program and improve employees' ability to learn. This is particularly valuable in fields where the work is highly technical, and companies are tapping into emerging technologies' potential to support enhanced training programs and employee development. 

“Companies are using engaging tech such as AR and VR to train and reskill and give entry-level employees the hands-on skills they need without wasting materials or risking safety,” said Harpreet Gulati, senior vice president of planning and operations at industrial software company AVEVA. "These technologies are attracting workers to industrial positions because they’ve used similar tools in daily life through video games, etc., and it makes training more engaging."

AR is useful because rather than take a user out of an environment, the environment is augmented with overlays and other useful information. That means virtual elements can be added to an office, but aspects of real-world elements can be enhanced as well.

Related Article: Why Virtual Onboarding Beats Traditional Onboarding

The Benefits of VR in the Workplace

VR, like AR, is an immersive learning method. Using VR, employees are able to experience virtual versions of practical on-the-job challenges, so they can learn by doing the work — without having to worry about costly or dangerous mistakes. This is the same principle as flight simulation for pilots, for instance.

Because VR allows for a hands-on experience, trainees are able to learn much faster than by reading a process manual or watching a tutorial video. They can also correct mistakes on the spot and learn the right method to avoid errors from the start.

In 2019, PwC released a study in which the company tested VR for employee learning and found that employees in VR courses can be trained up to four times faster than traditional learning methods, including self-paced online learning and classroom education. Other findings from the study included:

  • Learners are more confident in applying what they’re taught.
  • Employees are more emotionally connected to VR content.
  • Learners are more engaged.
  • VR learning can be more cost-effective at scale.

Scott Likens, who leads the new services and emerging technology practice at PwC and helped oversee the study, said the kind of emotional connection that is created through VR impacts more of the learner’s senses and is well-suited to any type of training involving emotions, such as building empathy. Likens suggested that many typical hour-long courses could be completed in 20 minutes using VR due to the immersive nature of the medium, with less distractions and concentrated learning.

When it comes to onboarding — particularly for remote and hybrid employees — VR is particularly useful. Quickly attaining familiarity with surroundings makes employees feel more connected with other colleagues during the risky three- to six-month period when a new recruit is still deciding whether to stay or go, said Lars Hyland, chief learning officer of Totara Learning, a provider of enterprise learning, engagement and performance management technology.

“Giving candidates a virtual walkthrough of your company's operations — particularly factory environments, retail and office environments — can give a much better sense of what it will be like to work at the organization," he said.

Related Article: Why VR Training Is Poised to Grow

Looking Beyond Engagement to Performance 

The pandemic forced organizations to implement new processes, and many companies turned to online and virtual training for new hires. Organizations are now looking at the ways the technology can be used for other aspects of business, particularly when it comes to HR and professional development programs such as upskilling, reskilling and continued education. 

According to Gulati, the future is with digital twins. “Digital twins provide a safe, reliable environment to study, inspect and test asset maintenance and optimization strategies prior to implementation," he said. "Operators can view an augmented overlay of the physical asset and access step-by-step procedures for maintenance or training needs — saving time and money."

To succeed amid the array of challenges facing business today, organizations will have to create an environment that enhances performance and productivity, while increasing employee engagement.

The use of emerging technologies such as gamification, VR and AR may just give companies a way to provide employees an engaging way of learning that appeals to both digital natives and previous generations.

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