By: Andrew Hawken, CEO of virtual reality start-up Mesmerise
As we’ve seen over the course of the last year – with most of us taking up remote working or leaving behind the concept of the office entirely – employers are facing new challenges (as well as new opportunities) when it comes to maintaining a happy and engaged workforce.
One area of concern for some employers has been the negative impacts of people working apart when it comes to engagement, creativity and productivity. For the most part, we’ve relied heavily on Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other two-dimensional video platforms to communicate, hold meetings and run training sessions. While these platforms have been very useful in desperate times, the ‘Zoom fatigue’ epidemic tells us that they cannot be the only solution for collaboration, while working from home.
You might think that video platforms are the closest thing we currently have to replicating face-to-face exchanges, but this isn’t the case. An increasing number of companies are now looking to virtual reality (VR) as a way to connect and engage their employees and even boost creative thinking and productivity.
Until you experience a meeting in VR, it’s hard to fathom just how immersive the experience is. This is one of the reasons that the technology offers so much potential when it comes to boosting productivity levels in remote working situations – because it keeps people feeling ‘present’ and focussed. With a headset on, an employee cannot be distracted by a message or a Microsoft Teams alert. They can’t be tempted to start browsing the internet during a meeting or begin working through their email inbox. If you are meeting colleagues in VR, it requires your full attention, and this naturally yields better results when it comes to exercises such as brainstorms.
VR also allows businesses to create a multitude of eclectic working environments to suit whatever the need is. You can offer employees spaces which can stimulate creative and concerted teamwork, whilst also offering secluded and thought-provoking spaces where you can work independently. A variety of spaces is one of the core tenets in obtaining a productive workforce, as it allows individuals the opportunity to shift their mind to a different way of thinking, with each change in environment.
Not only is diversity of spaces beneficial to levels of productivity, but VR can go beyond the setting of a space, to facilitate group or larger team exercises that would otherwise be overwhelming for the likes of a Zoom chat room. With VR, colleagues can switch between group discussions and intimate conversations, without having to move from meeting to meeting. At Mesmerise, we’ve hosted both intimate team break-out sessions with five to ten people, right through to large scale conference events of over 100 people, hosted in VR.
VR does not have to be a complete alternative to real-life interactions or video chats either; it can slot in as an additional method of engagement for day-to-day meetings or one-off events. We recently worked with the financial services company, Morningstar, on its annual Investment Conference in Sydney, where we exhibited an ESG decision-making experience, called ‘Morningstar Sustainable City’. The experience, which allowed the 600 attendees to gain a better understanding of ESG investment decisions, was a perfect example of the role that VR can play in creating unique training and learning experiences.
Training and development is indeed a fast-growing area of VR and another way in which the technology can deliver positive results in the long term, again creating a more productive workforce. Recent PWC research found that, on average, people learning through VR are four times more focused during training than their e-learning peers, and 1.5 times more focused than those studying in a physical format.
As VR continues to become more accessible, more affordable and more advanced, there is no doubt that more businesses will begin to embrace it, offering their employees VR headsets as part of a work toolkit, along with a laptop and a smartphone. The result will be a more productive remote workforce.