Virtual reality in the workplace: Fact or fiction

In recent years, virtual reality (VR) has captivated our imagination, filling the minds of the masses with potential use cases that seemed straight out of the pages of science fiction films.    

While you may instantly think of gaming and entertainment in association with VR, it has tremendous promise for corporate innovation and the workplace of the future. Virtual Reality technology is steadily becoming one of the most sought after pieces of technology that could change the way we host conference calls, present information and collaborate with each other.   

However, we are only just starting to understand the potential of VR in the workplace of the future. Its applications are vast; so let’s look at how VR can create a smarter and more efficient workplace.   

Virtual Collaboration   

Virtual Reality has the potential to play a crucial role in how business meetings and collaboration occurs in the future.  If the success of VoIP and other internet-based audio- and video conferencing solutions is anything to go by, then the next iteration could be based upon VR too. Naturally, nothing will ever truly beat a face-to-face meeting. But, in those instances where this is not possible, or audio and video based conferencing is not sufficient, then VR offers an excellent alternative. 

Virtual Reality enables a collaborative environment within which a group of people, who are based in different locations, can communicate, work together and share information virtually.  Currently the limitations of working remotely include an inability to express body language, point at things, and to collaborate on shared information. VR can be used to get around these limitations by creating an environment that makes remote collaboration feel more like you are sitting in the room with your colleagues. That’s powerful. 

Of course, VR collaboration is still evolving; but in time, we expect to see more and more unified communications and collaboration providers start to play in this space, as new technologies at both the front and back ends will be required to enable VR collaboration. It truly is exciting.   

Virtual Reality for HR 

Further, another obvious case for VR is around its role in streamlining and improving HR’s functions, particularly in the hiring process. Virtual Reality can be used to provide a prospective employee a taste for their potential role, as well as facilitate virtual company tours.   

Virtual Reality can also be beneficial beyond the interview process, as training and on-boarding can be improved due to the immersive nature of VR. This is especially true in the industries where improper training can be a danger to the employee or those around them.  Virtual Reality offers an immersive training environment that allows trainees to gain hands on experience in a secure environment.   

NASA, for example already uses VR technology to help prepare astronauts for missions by using flight simulators that replicate the space experience. Another company embracing the technology for training staff is Lincoln Electric which uses VR Head-Mounted Displays (HMDs) to train welders.    

Virtual Products: Testing & Marketing   

Virtual Reality can also provide new ways for the marketing and advertising industry to facilitate smarter product testing.  This opens the option of marketing and developing new products or services in real-time in an interactive virtual environment. Focus groups can involve a larger number of participants, regardless of location, which will speed up product development process as well as providing huge cost benefits.   

Organic baby food manufacturer Happy Family did just this when studying how product placement on shelves and product packaging affects consumer behaviour. They did this by testing behaviour of customers in a realistic virtual shopping experience allowing them to pick up objects and read label ingredients. The findings from the research allowed them to roll out the most successful shelf set only three and a half months after the inceptions of the idea to use VR technology for customer testing.   

VR also offers imaginative new ways for marketers and advertisers to woo potential customers. Marriott uses VR to virtually transport users into hotels in various exotic locations and Volvo allows potential buyers to virtually test drive new car models.  VR carries exciting promise for product marketing and advertising, and we are only just beginning to see the potential of VR technology to captivate and engage potential buyers. 

Data Visualisation 

Data and analytics are permanent fixtures of corporate life.  However, analysing spreadsheets all day can even dull the attention span of the most focused employees. Currently technology limits the amount of data we can physically take in at a given moment.  According to SAS software architect Michael D. Thomas, humans can only process less than 1 kilobit of information per second when reading text on a flat screen.  As such, companies are constantly striving to create engaging ways to showcase their information.   

As cloud processing power improves and enables massive amounts of data and insights to be processed at a breakneck speed, we now face a dilemma because the breadth of data, and analytics available to us supersedes the capabilities of the technology we use to visualise and absorb the data.   

This is where VR comes in. VR technology will allow users to not only absorb more information and present larger datasets, but it will also allow for more sophisticated presentations of data.  For example, the addition of auditory information allows for data visualisation that uses both hearing and sight better to convey the significance, subject and location of a particular data point through the data-audio relationship and the loudness, type and direction of the sound, as it correlates to visual data.   

VR carries the potential to engage your sense of touch for a more immersive data visualisation experience; the use of haptic feedback gloves could elevate the presentations of data from the current visual-only format to stimulate three of your five senses.  VR offers a new way to make data more engaging and, by extension, more actionable.   

Conclusion   

Accepting VR in the workplace may seem like a long way off, however, the wide scale adoption may come sooner than expected.   Goldman Sachs has predicted that VR hardware will be an $80 billion-dollar industry within the next 10 years. According to Statista, in 2018, the VR hardware market is estimated to reach a value of 7.3 billion U.S. dollars.  Furthermore, as VR technology improves and is more commonplace, it will also become more affordable.   

The crucial element of implementing new technology in the work place successfully, will lie in letting the adoption be driven by humanistic needs and concerns. Virtual reality technology, no matter how alluring, simply won’t work for your company if employees aren’t motivated to use it.  New technology needs to be something that employees will want to incorporate in to their daily work routine.     

When it comes to virtual reality, it can be easy to be swept away by the popularity and glamour of adopting futuristic technology. For those looking to adopt virtual reality into their organisations successfully, it is important to resist being enticed by the ‘hype factor’.  It is important to remain level-headed and realistically determine if the technology fits in to your organisational processes and company culture.  Once VR has been deemed a good fit for your company, it won’t be long until VR conferences and presentations are an everyday placement in your hyper-efficient smart office. 

Patrick Harper, Chief Technology Officer, PGi   

Image Credit: Halfpoint / Shutterstock