Virtual reality: The new face of business?

Once only thought a possibility in dreams and science fiction, virtual reality has propelled onto the tech scene and is taking the world by storm.

And everyone seems to be buying into the hype – whether that’s Etihad Airways launching virtual reality tours of its latest airbus or Paul McCartney working on a project with VR app Jaunt to revisit the recording of some of The Beatles' best-known hits. Here, I discuss how virtual reality technology could transform the face of business as we know it.

The idea of virtual reality first came to the fore in 1935, in a story from science fiction writer Stanley G. Weinbaum named ‘Pygmalion’s Spectacles’. However, the phrase ‘virtual reality’ wasn’t actually coined until 50 years later, in 1987 by Jaron Lanier, founder of the visual programming lab.

Virtual reality is the creation of an artificial environment, which invokes a sensory experience. It is a technology that’s on the rise and growing massively. It’s expected to start transforming a range of industries – not only the obvious such as gaming and entertainment, but also health, education and even the military.

Affecting sight, hearing, smell and even touch, virtual reality works to immerse a user into a simulated environment. This could transform the way we prepare people for intense and stressful situations, such as new medics training for surgery or soldiers preparing for combat. The immersive nature of virtual reality technology also means that we will be able to create more experiential learning for children – a potential game-changing development as different children learn in different ways.

So what sort of impact can businesses expect from virtual reality?

We can take it for granted that VR technology will revolutionise the world of entertainment, as we know it. It will bring games and films to life – immersing players and viewers into a virtual world and make them really feel like they’re part of it. Similarly, we expect VR technology to change how we watch concert footage and sporting events – it will bring these into the living rooms of viewers and allow them to almost feel like they’re actually there, soaking up the atmosphere. While VR technology will not replace the real experience, it won’t be such a bad alternative if you miss out on tickets for your favourite band or team.

Virtual reality technology will also allow businesses to create more meaningful relationships with their customers. Through story-driven experiences, consumers will become active participants rather than passive users. VR technology will allow for individuals to become more readily able to tie emotions to brands – which is good news for any business.

The biggest impact we expect to see from virtual reality will be in the world of online shopping. Virtual reality will aid users in imagining how an item will physically fit, when applied with augmented reality. This could be anything – whether trying on an item of clothing, or seeing how a piece of furniture will fit in a living room. Even some big name car manufacturers are getting ahead of the game – Audi, Volvo, Toyota are just three of the major players bringing VR and AR technologies into the car buying process. By the same token, we are fully expecting that virtual reality will soon begin to change how we holiday – whether that’s choosing the holiday destination or booking a hotel room.

Looking to the future, it’s likely that virtual reality technology will transform how we buy property. Integrating VR into the house buying process will mean that instead of actually physically going to view a property, potential buyers will be able explore a house without having to travel to see it first.

Will VR have any effect on internal business processes?

With globalisation, more businesses than ever are working on an international basis with offices across the world. For this reason, we’re expecting HR departments to become remote with one central office in a given location. This means that regardless of where an employee is based, they will still be able to contact their company’s HR team should they need advice, guidance or help. In a similar vein, virtual reality technology could mean job interviews and training will be conducted remotely too. Virtual reality could present interview candidates with more situational questions, giving them better insight into the realities of a given job and provide the interview panel with better insights into the type of employee they would be. When it comes to training, virtual reality could give employees more hands-on learning, putting them in the driver’s seat and making the whole training process more efficient, as most people tend to learn quicker by 'doing' rather than by listening.

Similarly, with more businesses working across borders, teleconferencing has come to depend on video chat software such as Google Hangout and Skype. Virtual reality technology will make teleconferencing more personal with the ability to portray facial expressions and show eye contact. VR will say goodbye to lagging interactions and pixelated faces and hello to more human elements of interpersonal communication lost on current video calling. As virtual reality develops and makes video conferencing more like real life interactions, geography will soon become irrelevant. As a result, businesses will begin to see travel costs reduce over the next few years – which can only be a positive thing.

Virtual reality is already making waves and capturing the imaginations of people right across the world – young and old. With this technology, the possibilities seem endless and we could soon see it touch upon almost every aspect of daily life. Virtual reality will change the way future generations are educated, transform criminal court cases - bringing crimes 'to life' for juries, alter our relationships with brands and revolutionise training for a range of business sectors.

While it’s already having an impact on how we watch films and play video games, virtual reality is still very much in its early stages. This technology will develop and advance further so it’s exciting to see what the future holds. We say watch this space!

Nick Black, CEO of Apadmi