As a clearer understanding of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) comes into focus for consumers in the coming year, companies and their HR teams will see that AR and VR (or mixed reality) is likely to be among the top employee trends for 2022. For recruiting, onboarding, employee training, developing soft skills and even reducing compliance risk, VR and AR are proving to be powerful tools.
HR leaders are taking notice.
Mixed Reality Still 'Cool' for Employees, Job Candidates
Mixed reality is found in practical applications for the workplace. It enables immersive training experiences for workers, such as those learning maintenance or management skills. Companies are finding it far exceeds engagement compared to webinar or computer screen tutorials and it also costs far less when subtracting the expense of flying employees into a centralized office for a few days. For VR, the primary cost is the VR headset, which can be had for a few hundred dollars.
Companies are finding VR and AR to be an attractive hook during hiring—a perk to workers, according to Matt Stevens, Managing Partner, Deloitte, who studies the concept. "Virtual reality is novel enough today that it's viewed as 'cool' in job candidates' minds," he said. "It's at the point that forward-thinking companies are leaning in on the idea of using it."
VR is also attracting attention at job fairs. MGM Resorts, for one, wants potential hires to experience roles virtually before taking them—a move it hopes will get workers to stick around a little longer, Business Insider reported.
"[MGM is handing out] VR headsets at its employment centers and job fairs so candidates can see if a job matches their expectations," according to Business Insider. "It's part of a plan to cut attrition in an industry experiencing especially high turnover amid a pandemic-induced labor shortage."
And with employees slowly returning to the office—or new hires arriving for the first time—virtual reality can be used to create a virtual look into a company's newly designed space with 3-D renderings (and tours) of the office as part of onboarding.
Besides, Deloitte estimates that by 2024, 25 percent of company office meetings will have a virtual reality element to them; and by 2025, about 70 percent of employee training will include VR in some way.
So Many Uses, So Many Users
Mark Concannon is the CEO of Concannon XR, a consulting firm that helps firms use AR and VR to improve employee training and communication, especially among remote workers. He said those companies showing a growing interest in mixed reality can be segmented into groups such as the early adopters, the close followers and the skeptics about the complications it would cause.
He said Deloitte, PWC and Accenture, Farmers Insurance, Toyota, AT&T, UPS and Delta Airlines—to name a few—are using forms of mixed reality for management training. Apartment owner Lincoln Property Company and auto manufacturer BWM are using it to train their maintenance teams. Hospitals are using AR—where virtual companions or other forms of data are projected onto real-world environments through special glasses—to train doctors on intricate surgeries and FedEx uses it to train new hires on how to pack a truck. Walmart used it to prepare employees for emergencies by using it while conducting active shooter training. One hazardous gas company used virtual reality training to teach workers the proper way to handle the hazardous materials.
"Mixed reality allows training without requiring the participants to be together in a physical space," Stevens said. "Virtual training allows for unlimited practice by repeating the training, and it minimizes risks such as misusing or breaking new equipment or having injuries during training."
Management and consulting companies are relying on it for soft-skills training. Through virtual reality, the opportunity is there to role play on how to interact as consultants, such as practicing layoff or termination conversations, Concannon said. It can also lend a more realistic exercise for customer-service workers learning to address the public.
Concannon said VR is also effective in teaching compliance, helping companies to avoid lawsuits and fines. "Many of these underlying compliance risks are soft skills-related—layoffs, terminations, sexual harassment and situational interventions. VR is very effective at playing out scenarios and training on appropriate action. It also shows real value in further soft-skill areas such as interviewing, coaching and sales training."
Concannon said that adopters all start out with pilot programs, "and then they see the exponential value as it plays out. Companies that use it want to be looked at as thought leaders in the training space. They are learning to train for the future. They are ramping down their in-headquarters or in-person training. It's a cultural adoption."
Look, and More Importantly, 'Feel'
AR has different levels of sophistication with the high-fidelity version feeling the most immersive, Concannon said. "With the recording, participation can be reversed and reviewed. For example, if an encounter between a supervisor and worker about termination is recorded, the supervisor can be reversed/swapped (placed in the mind of the associate) to get a sense of what that person just experienced, emotionally."
Stevens said that lately he's seen this trend shifting to training on how best to show empathy toward customers or others.
"It helps to avoid errors or poor relations created by new employees when they are speaking face-to-face with a customer for the first time," Stevens said. "Employees are able to see how their actions are perceived by others while they are dealing with difficult situations.
"For example, a person working at a hotel front desk and handling complaints about room reservations or service. They can learn in a non-risky setting and get a better understanding of how to manage their reactions and responsiveness to customer needs."
Stevens said the ability to collect participant data from VR training enables companies to measure the training's effectiveness.
"It can track participants' eye contact, voice and behavior, unlike any other training method," he said. "This is something companies have sought for a long time; it helps them to prove the ROI on such forms of training.
Lincoln Property Company's Hand's-On Training
Lincoln Property Company has 700 apartment communities in its portfolio and began using VR training products for some of its maintenance staff several years ago.
Lincoln Property Company is serving over 2,500 maintenance associates with 24/7 access to more than 200 hours of career-accelerating, simulation-based training content in HVAC, plumbing, electrical, appliance repair and safety.
Margette Hepfner, Chief Operating Officer, Lincoln Property Company, said that Lincoln continues to offer a variety of training methods, including with in-house and outsourced trainers. Its supplier partners also provide free training.
"Our technicians have a wide variety of skillsets and backgrounds so it's best to find the right training method for them," she said. "But we had no centralized training platform."
For tenured maintenance techs, VR "offers them a chance to brush up on a few skills on their own time," she said. "The entire program gives us a controlled environment. It's training on an individual level and is not classroom based."
Hepfner said that the platform is easy to use and to navigate. "The feedback I've been getting is mostly very positive," she said. "With training that is on-demand, we don't have to invest as much in flying in a subject-matter expert for certain topics, for example."
Lincoln Property Company also uses VR to upskill employees who are interested in learning new skills or start a new career. For example, a porter might know a few aspects about plumbing, but has never been formally trained in plumbing repair. "This gives them a chance to grow their careers," she said.
Paul Bergeron is a freelance writer.