With COVID-19 upending nearly every aspect of the way we work, many companies spent the greater part of last year trying to find the best way to stay productive while ensuring employees’ and customers’ safety. For many, this meant taking the traditional processes and making them remote without disrupting established workflows. The agendas of meetings held over Zoom don’t vary all that widely from those in person, as one example.
Not every element of business can be carbon copied into a remote environment, however. For these sorts of problems, organizations might want to turn to more modern solutions. In the case of valuable employee training, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have emerged as accessible options in certain industries.
This might sound like a sci-fi solution to a simple problem, but these technologies have come a long way since the 1980s—and even since a few years ago. VR headsets are no longer prohibitively expensive or unwieldy, and AR technology is in pretty much every smartphone.
For the right companies under the right circumstances, these technologies can offer a realistic, immersive training experience that not only improves on remote learning but can actually one-up in-person training in terms of both cost and effectiveness. It’s not the best solution for every company, but it could be an opportunity to test a new approach for those businesses exploring their remote-training options.
Why Some Big Companies Have Bought In
Benefits such as safe training environments and cost-efficiencies have persuaded a number of large corporations to invest in VR, but others have reservations about the technology for various reasons. Some simply lack awareness surrounding the tech and believe it’s still too cost-prohibitive. Others haven’t factored in all the indirect costs associated with making this type of decision (e.g., travel associated with traditional training). That’s completely understandable.
To be sure, virtual training sessions can cut down the time and money it takes to train employees. With VR, for instance, you can record a training session to reuse rather than pay someone to teach a course every time. Travel is completely removed from the equation, and there’s no longer a need to buy books and course materials for each trainee, buy extra equipment, or take over machinery normally used for work.
In an interactive virtual environment, you can set up real-world scenarios that can drive home training in a way that an in-person classroom environment often can’t. This is especially useful when training employees on the use of specific equipment or machinery: Various scenarios can be played out safely and repeatedly for each trainee hundreds of times if necessary. VR and AR can offer safer training environments for industries such as manufacturing and oil and gas during a pandemic, but many businesses have found that’s far from the only benefit these modern technologies can provide.
Companies like Walmart and Chevron have implemented VR into their training, saving millions of dollars in the process. Tyson Foods, meanwhile, has reduced illnesses and injuries by 20% through virtual safety training. As more businesses invest in this technology, these kinds of results should only grow.
Once you’ve invested in this technology for training, you could also put it to work in other areas. Virtual sales floors and immersive product demonstrations using customer smartphones are becoming more commonplace during the pandemic. And they can help you not only navigate COVID-19 but also stay on the bleeding edge of marketing.
How to Gauge ROI Before You Invest
Here are a few strategies for determining whether this more modern approach to employee training is worth the investment:
1. Start small and scale up. One of the best ways to determine potential return on investment (ROI) is to see the investment in action. Work with a partner who can help you build a small-scale training simulation to test out internally. This proof of concept will help you better understand how AR and VR can be applied and scaled to all of your training procedures. It will also provide a much easier path to companywide buy-in.
2. Compare long-term costs. VR and AR come with upfront equipment costs and setup times that can sometimes scare business leaders away—but that means ignoring the long-term cost savings that come with these technologies.
Remember, regular in-person training usually comes with a hefty price tag. Trainers, equipment, and travel expenses add up quickly. Meanwhile, cheaper solutions, such as prerecorded videos or documentation, also can end up costing you in the long run. Employees are likelier to make costly mistakes or might even have to be retrained.
When you’re trying to decide whether this is the right approach for you, consider the long-term costs and ROI that would come with a more modern training method.
3. Consider indirect costs. Your training ROI doesn’t just come out of the direct costs of training itself: More effective methods lead to other business improvements and cost reductions that you should factor in. For this, it’s important to figure out exactly what you want from your training and where you would like to see improvements.
Let’s imagine, for example, a logistics company that needs to train truck drivers. Because of the risks associated with this job, the cost of insurance is high. In this case, you’d want to assess how a high-fidelity simulation training might be more effective and efficient. If you can train drivers faster and with less risk using VR, accidents should decline, along with the cost of insurance. These sorts of savings won’t be clear if you just look at the price tag on the training itself.
4. Figure out what better data are worth to you. One of the often undervalued benefits of VR training is the data you can collect from it. By gathering analytics for each training session, you can pinpoint common trainee struggles or weak points in the program to rectify, allowing you to strengthen the entire process. Because VR is an immersive, controlled experience, you can collect a wider array of information than with classroom sessions or e-learning solutions and further hone your training process.
While our current pandemic may have heightened the need for better remote training solutions, that’s far from the only use for VR and AR in training. For the right companies, this more modern and immersive approach can reduce costs, improve outcomes, and help set them up for the future of work. Now is the perfect time to consider what these technologies might do for your employees, customers, and bottom line.
Saagar Govil is the chairman and CEO of Cemtrex Inc., a world-leading technology company. His latest project is the Cemtrex SmartDesk, an innovative workstation designed to increase productivity.