Months into the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of employees are still working remotely, with no immediate end in sight. Some major employers like Microsoft, Target, and Deloitte have extended their remote work policies to mid-2021 or announced plans to maintain them on a permanent basis.
Companies that may have initially planned to postpone certain activities until a return to “normal” are realizing they can’t continue to delay those activities and have to find ways to manage them remotely.
Training is a great example of this. It may have seemed feasible to delay training and onboarding activities a couple of weeks or a month until returning to the office, but it’s just not a realistic option to delay them for over a year or to abandon them entirely just because staff are remote.
We’ve written before about policies and practices around virtual learning modules and teleconferencing to support remote training. In this feature, we look at the use of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) by training and onboarding teams. We’ve included feedback from industry experts and practitioners who have shared their experiences and thoughts on the subject.
The Potential Power of AR and VR
AR and VR have held promise for training applications for years. By simulating, modifying, and enhancing real-world situations, these tools allow companies to have greater control over the “environment” in which training takes place. This could mean creating simulated customer interactions or road conditions, for example.
The ability to modify what trainees are experiencing relative to the actual environment saves both time and money and can greatly increase safety. Consider the obvious safety benefits of a flight simulator compared with actual flight, for example.
Big tech has made many significant investments in the world of AR and VR in recognition of its potential. That potential has grown dramatically in the wake of large-scale remote work.
“The Oculus for Business team knows that VR can help people work better, especially,” according to a Facebook spokesperson. “Even as companies evolve to accommodate COVID changes, we’re seeing demand continue.”
“By freeing people from the limitations of physical space, VR can make remote work feel far less remote. VR makes costly, difficult, or otherwise-impossible scenarios and simulations not only possible, but immediately within reach and shareable across distance. Companies are more connected, teams more productive, and trainings more effective—even when employees are distributed,” the spokesperson adds.
Facebook notes that examples of AR and VR tools in use currently include the collaborative exploration of viral proteins to accelerate vaccine development via Nanome and UConn continuing to train surgical residents after suspending elective surgeries due to the pandemic.
AR and VR are exciting tools for participants. They often have a game-like feel, and employees see them as fun tools that are exciting to try out. This can help encourage greater engagement with everyday activities.
For instance, Arthur Digital is a platform aimed at solving synchronous, complex collaboration in a fully digital meeting environment mirroring a real-life, in-person meeting. It provides the following stats based on its clients’ experience with VR:
- 80% of clients say their communication has improved significantly through VR.
- 75% of clients say they can work efficiently and achieve their goals in VR.
- The average meeting duration is 35 minutes.
- There’s been a 204% growth in meeting participants among clients and a 242% growth in the number of meetings.
- Use case distribution is 60% content creation workshops, 20% basic meetings, and 20% team meetings.
These stats definitely point to some real, and measurable, positive impacts of using VR in training.
Training and Collaboration
Facebook says AR and VR are particularly well-suited to training and collaboration needs and notes that training falls into two broad categories:
- Functioning and learning and perfecting skills in otherwise hard-to-replicate scenarios
- Soft skills like empathy and conversational skills
“Collaboration reaches across many experiences, but with VR, people can share spaces and accomplish tasks just like they might in the same room with software and virtual meeting rooms powered by companies like Spatial, Arthur Digital, Iris VR and Insite,” according to Facebook.
Finding the Right Tools
Getting employee training right always comes down to a mix of technology and technique, but when talking about AR and VR and remote training, technology obviously takes on a much greater significance. Fortunately for training professionals, there are a wide variety of highly advanced tools to choose from, and tech companies are focusing on developing and enhancing those solutions more than ever in the midst of widespread remote work.
Facebook is a great example. While the company obviously started as a social media platform, it has expanded aggressively and has introduced a variety of communication tools, including tools for use in the workplace.
A year ago, Facebook introduced the Oculus for Business platform. Its vision for this tool is to allow people to do their jobs effectively from anywhere in the world using the power of VR.
“The Oculus for Business platform supports enterprise VR deployments with software set up and device management, a professional in-headset experience, and enterprise-grade security and support,” according to Facebook. “Businesses and developers have been asking for an easier way to bring VR into the workplace—now we’re delivering it.”
Impact on Vendor Business
In addition to Facebook, a number of other companies—many that collaborate with the social media giant—have seen their businesses grow and change with the dramatic shift to remote work. For instance:
vSpatial. “Once the coronavirus began to impact businesses in April, we saw our usage jump up almost immediately by almost 30% and since have increased by close to 10 times,” says Daniel Platt, Director of Product at vSpatial.
“There’s also been users that have switched to VR meeting solutions like ours to share more traditional collaboration like screensharing that most companies still need to bring into meetings while overcoming video conference fatigue,” Platt says.
meetingRoom. “As a company exclusively focused on a collaboration solution for large enterprises, many of whom are seeking to shrink their spend on both physical real estate and travel, we at meetingRoom have seen rising inbound enquiry as companies move from ‘should and might’ to ‘can and must’ explore VR possibilities,” says Jonny Cosgrove, meetingRoom’s CEO.
“Companies are demanding something beyond the 2D experience of video calls for agile team projects, particularly those technical in nature—from training to client interactions and problem-solving,” he says.
VR and AR have been around for years. However, while both have well-proven cost-saving, timesaving, and safety benefits over traditional “real-world” training in many cases, trainers often prefer to train staff in traditional settings because of either cost or authenticity.
In 2020, though, the large-scale shift to remote work means that in-person training is no longer the best option. In this environment, and amid uncertainty over when person-to-person training can be ramped up again, many trainers are giving AR and VR a closer look.