Today’s workplace is unlike one we’ve ever seen or experienced before. Whether operating remotely, in-person or in a hybrid model, employers and employees alike have been put to the test to navigate different working conditions while still aiming to reach the same career goals. Technology has certainly come into play this past year to support, accelerating business communication methods like Zoom and Slack on a level we never expected. What hasn’t been talked about nearly enough, however, is the progress we’re seeing through technology in employee development and training programs – particularly with virtual reality (VR).
While it’s gained significant traction in recent years for its role in the entertainment space, VR is also an important component of the progress we’re seeing in the professional development space today. We’ll look at those use cases in this Q&A, along with how organizations can begin to implement the technology in their own industries moving forward.
To get a better grasp on the opportunities VR can bring to the workplace in these uncertain environments, I connected with Tim Massey, Engineering & VR Product Manager at Vicon, an Academy Award®-winning company specializing in developing accessible motion capture technology that delivers the most precise, reliable data in any movement analysis application. We spoke about what the VR industry looks like today and how it’s evolving to help organizations across the board adapt to changing environments and double down on employee success.
Gary Drenik: Virtual reality has gained a lot of momentum in recent years, and brands like Oculus have become household names. Can you share a bit more about the breakthroughs you’ve seen with the technology in a professional development setting?
Tim Massey: More than half (~57%) of U.S. adults say they regularly or occasionally play video games, according to a recent Prosper Insights & Analytics Survey. It’s safe to say the majority of these players are familiar with VR in the context of gaming, like Oculus headsets that can be used at home or even larger scale immersive VR installations in amusement parks and arcades. However, these use cases only scratch the surface of the potential impact VR can have on our everyday lives, including our careers.
In corporate settings, VR is now being tapped to upskill employees through engaging experiences. In fact, consulting firm PWC showed that VR training can achieve significant benefits in soft skills training in terms of speed of training, engagement and focus, all while being at cost parity with just 375 participants compared to classroom-based training.
However, conventional VR equipment doesn’t suit all tasks or roles. Alongside this, one of the fastest growing areas of VR is the technology behind location-based entertainment (LBE), which delivers “virtual-reality-meets-in-person-training” experiences where learners can engage in a physical space. We’re now seeing some significant projects adopting LBE technology to help participants learn in immersive environments for active roles or high-risk activities.
For example, to ensure the safety of themselves and others, miners need extensive training before traveling underground and encountering dangerous scenarios at blast walls. To better understand the harsh conditions they’ll be facing, LBE can be used to immerse miners in a lifelike “game” before they enter a mine where they are tasked with making quick decisions in a number of scenarios. This helps to rehearse in a safe, simulated environment as well as getting real-time feedback to assess their proficiency.
We also saw this when military service members joined us and our friends at VR Arcade for an event in the Netherlands where they engaged with the tech. They demonstrated that once exposed to LBE, even in an entertainment context, highly skilled professionals can immediately grasp the potential of this technology.
Drenik: I know you mentioned location-based entertainment or LBE is the next level in workplace training, can you provide a bit more information about what LBE is and how it’s different from a traditional virtual reality use case?
Massey: LBE allows users to roam freely and physically interact with their environment, which may include real handheld props or tools. In many cases, this means providing users with a VR headset within a custom-designed space where they can walk, jump, or ride through the space alone or with a group. While fully immersed in the environment, users can solve problems or engage in different storylines across various digital worlds, limited only by the imagination of the designers.
LBE lets users interact and share experiences with others in the same physical space. This offers a more lifelike component to users, while traditional VR is typically experienced in a small space without physical interaction or collaboration.
Drenik: Now that we have a good understanding of LBE, can you share a few examples of the technology in action? For comparison, it would be great to hear about some of the more established virtual reality training applications as well.
Massey: A great example of LBE is happening in Europa Park, the largest amusement park in Germany and second largest in Europe, which recently launched the world’s largest location-based VR entertainment platform that can simultaneously support up to 32 players. Unlike gaming consoles or PCs, LBE technology allows entire families or teams to enjoy VR experiences together.
We’ll likely see more widespread adoption of LBE platforms as pandemic-related restrictions are lifted and users are able to safely gather again. As for the more established VR training applications, you’d be surprised to hear some of the massive organizations that have added the technology into their training regimens. Walmart, for example, leverages VR in its training academy to help employees learn about and prepare for crisis situations like active shooters. And more recently, Bank of America has announced their participation in VR training, utilizing VR headsets to help employees master everyday assignments and work on better communication skills with customers.
Drenik: Today, in many cases, employers are working to navigate managing a completely remote workforce. Can you share a few examples of how LBE can help employers improve their training programs to be better suited in a work-from-home environment?
Massey: LBE can still benefit employers working to train new team members or help existing members prepare for the next level while employees are still working remotely. And according to recent Prosper Insights & Analytics data, 59.1% of U.S. adults would prefer to continue working from home post-pandemic. As I mentioned earlier, LBE for training in physical or high-risk environments is becoming increasingly diverse. And while employees working in office settings rarely face physical danger, they do encounter their own frightening situations, like public speaking. As we’ve already seen, the same LBE technology used to prepare a miner at a blast wall or someone climbing high ladders to complete cell phone tower maintenance in high winds can be used to facilitate realistic training experiences. But in corporate settings, the tech adds realism to bridge the gap between theory and the real world. For the case of virtual public speaking training, this could mean incorporating body language or stage presence into training.
The addition of full-body tracking and tools opens up whole new use cases, such as the ability to perform demonstrations of tasks in a 3D virtual environment for participants. They can watch as they would in real life from multiple positions and angles in a 3D VR demonstration from a trained subject matter expert, but all from a remote location.
Drenik: Similarly, employees who were new to a remote workplace in 2020 are finally adjusting to the different challenges. In some cases, they’re ready to take on new opportunities like continuing education courses or have interest in pursuing a new role. How can virtual reality help them do this?
Massey: In April 2021, Prosper Insights & Analytics found that nearly 9% of US adults have reordered their professional or working life priorities in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. For employees looking to grow in their career or begin a new one, virtual reality is a great place to start. For example, in the education field, teachers were faced with teaching class over Zoom or navigating a hybrid model that jumped between classroom and virtual settings throughout the pandemic. For teachers looking to learn new ways to navigate these evolving classroom obstacles, there are classroom simulations that pair teachers with actors to help them learn and adapt to new situations in real-time.
For employees looking to broaden their horizons, there are countless methods surfacing to help fine tune everyday skills. Not only do virtual reality training programs allow employers to track the progress of the trainee, giving real-time feedback and actionable tips for improvement, but they also have the ability to grow as the technology progresses. The newest virtual reality innovations, like eye-tracking or measuring natural responses from integrated sensors on the headsets, allow experiences to be dynamic and adjust to the stress or concentration levels of the trainee.
Drenik: Let’s talk about your predictions for virtual reality and LBE in 2021 and beyond. How do you think it will transform the workplace even more than it already has? Do you expect more business leaders and HR professionals to adopt this technology, and if so, how?
Massey: It’s undeniable that this has been a difficult year for in-person experiences, especially in retail contexts. However, this has focused all parts of the technology stack on refining the experience and has accelerated development that will be reapplied in other contexts.
I certainly think those providers who have managed to remain viable throughout a severe enforced shutdown will emerge extremely strong for the economic rebound that is to follow. And this will lead the international growth of LBE locations to every major city, which was already occurring prior to the pandemic.
Virtual reality has been a hot commodity in recent years through different entertainment applications. But as these breakthroughs continue to happen and more technology enters the market, the industry is bound to expand and the barrier to entry for use in different contexts is dropping all the time. According to a recent analysis by Deloitte, sales of wearable headsets used for digital reality by corporations and educational institutions are expected to grow by 100% in 2021 compared to 2019 adoption.
VR is now a mature technology and the biggest barrier to adoption is the lack of exposure to it and awareness (which is improving rapidly) of what it is now capable of.
Drenik: Thanks, Tim, for weighing in on location-based entertainment and what it means for corporate training today. I sure am looking forward to the breakthroughs we’ll see in this industry in the years to come!