VR in the workplace, part 1
How virtual reality is supercharging employee training

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When you think virtual reality (VR), what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Movies like “The Matrix” or “Ready Player One”? Video games or augmented reality (AR) crazes like “Pokémon Go”? What about the workplace? That last one’s probably pushing it, right? Don’t be so sure.

While VR is typically associated with consumer hobbies, it’s quite common in the enterprise space. And it’s only getting bigger.

According to ARtillery Intelligence, enterprise VR revenue is projected to grow from $829 million in 2018 to $4.26 billion in 2023. A PwC report projects that nearly 23.5 million jobs worldwide will be using VR and augmented reality (AR) by 2030.

Right now, organizations with remote workers are looking for ways to go beyond the “2D” experience of video conferencing and are turning to VR predominantly in two ways: immersive training and collaboration.

In the first of our two-part series on VR in the workplace, we take a closer look at how VR is being used in employee training, examining the various forms, the impact, and how to get started.

How employees train with VR

Immersive training is the biggest driving force behind VR in the workplace. This comes in three main forms:

  1. Human skills training. Companies use VR to teach employees how to build empathy and leadership, how to have difficult conversations, or even how to practice news sales approaches. PwC, for instance, used VR training that incorporated issues like diversity and inclusion in immersive training environments. PwC also created a VR soft skills course that let employees pitch to virtual CEOs – if they used business-as-usual approaches, the CEO would ask them to leave, forcing them to adjust their strategy.
  2. Hard skills training. Organizations also use VR to train workers in tasks related to their occupation. For example, at the Johnson & Johnson Institute, healthcare professionals like surgeons and surgical teams are using VR to practice procedures. By using Oculus Quest, surgeons can “perform” different surgeries virtually anywhere, anytime – and receive performance metrics afterwards – giving them hands-on experience so they’re comfortable when the time comes to perform in person.
  3. Operational safety training. VR can put workers in high-stakes scenarios without the risks. For instance, employers can recreate dangerous scenarios in VR, like an active shooter situation or an oil rig explosion, so employees can practice how they’d respond without any risk of bodily harm. That way, should any of these situations arise in real life, employees have properly prepared for it.

The benefits of VR in employee training

In the PwC study, employees learned four times faster using VR than they did in a classroom setting. They were also four times more focused than their e-learning counterparts and 1.5 times more focused than their peers who learned in classrooms.

There’s also an emotional component to this form of training. PwC found that employees were 3.75 times more emotionally connected to the training material than classroom learners and 2.3 times more connected than e-learners.

These performance improvements are just the tip of the iceberg. There are also cost savings to be had. For instance, Nestle Purina discovered that by training 10 salespeople per month in VR, it saved $100,000 per year in travel and lost productivity costs.

How to get started with VR in the workplace

Given the many ways VR can be used, including training, collaboration, and data analytics, one of the biggest hurdles is getting started.

Rather than implementing VR across your entire organization, start small. Focus on one particular use case. Maybe it’s training your warehouse employees on how to manage and dispatch packages. Maybe it’s working with your field agents to practice sales techniques for when they’re out in the field.

Identify the challenge you’re facing and determine the key problem you’re trying to solve. Then create a VR program around it.

Adjusting to this new work reality

Successful organizations give employees the tools they need to do their jobs effectively. This should be a top priority regardless of whether they’re working from home or the office.

With VR technology, workers can better simulate the face-to-face interactions they’re used to, enjoy a more hands-on training experience, and feel a greater sense of connection to the company.

Stay tuned for the second part in our VR in the workplace series, where we explore elements of collaboration and productivity, and how the automobile, construction, and medical industries are using VR to improve day-to-day workflows, study designs, and engage in 3D visualization.

About the authors

Dan Nieves is the Head of North America Enterprise Solution Sales for Facebook Reality Labs.

Tim Fern is the Head of Enterprise Partner Management for Facebook Reality Labs.