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When virtual reality (VR) technology first came out it was a novelty primarily seen as an innovative way for gamers to dive into a digital world. It has grown into something so much more—a collaborative and interactive application that is a key tool in any modern workplace’s arsenal. Organisations that want to meet the expectations of the millennial and Gen Z workforce need to understand the types of technology they prefer to use, both for personal and professional use.

VR is gaining traction in immersing users and overlaying digital content on top of the physical world to enhance the traditional training environment in many industries. Last year the UK’s Network Rail used VR technology to teach employees who assess site safety. It was used to try out different weather environments, situations where there is limited sight of approaching trains and sudden noise. And Walmart uses VR headsets to test employee knowledge of the store layout, product information, and how to deal with customers.

VR adoption is growing. By 2021, the industry is expected to grow to a value of £801 million, according to figures from PwC, which will be a 76% growth from 2016. For companies focused on employee and customer experience, VR capabilities can help shape the workforce of the future.

4 best practices for VR/AR employee training
The beauty of VR technology is that it gives employees the opportunity to perfect training scenarios, such as difficult customer interactions or complicated product instructions, in a safe and responsive environment on their own time, while also enjoying an increasingly relevant and fun technology.

VR technology is not a one-size-fits-all approach to training, however, and it cannot replace everything learned in a traditional training environment. Rather, think of it as an enhancement to immerse employees into key scenarios that will be present in the workplace.

VR capabilities need to be deployed as part of a blended learning strategy that can be incorporated into classroom activities. Here are some best uses of VR for employee training:

1.Conversational training: With VR technology using headsets and joysticks, employees can create incredibly interactive environments to interact with digital characters to converse about situations that would be otherwise difficult or awkward to have with an employee or fellow trainee. Furthermore, it gamifies the experience with video game elements by giving feedback and scores that can be compared with others.

2. Process-based training: VR is becoming more than just “seeing” another world. The controllers that come with most headsets (usually held in each hand) let employees interact and move objects and products that encompass their daily work life. Electricians can learn a protocol for changing faulty wiring several times over without putting themselves in danger, for example, letting them identify the intricacy of their task stress-free. Many programs also offer “randomiser” options, which can create multiple unique scenarios, such as different house floorplans or customer moods.

3. Object-based training: Another hands-on approach, object-based training lets users virtually deconstruct or pick apart their organisation’s products to get an in-depth feel for what they are working on. For example for automotive contact centre agents this is a fantastic method to fully see a cars features, how it works and be able to describe this to callers.

4. Collaborative training: A growing field in augmented reality (AR) technology, VR’s cousin, is the ability to connect two smart devices to let workers and “customers” see the same scenario together on one screen. Shared screens can allow multiple trainees to interact on a virtual task together, showing real-time updates, directions, and advice to users while they watch their colleagues’ “digital” hands get to work. This type of training is especially useful in group training, such as classes of customer service employees.

Here are some examples of how companies are realising various benefits from VR: 

Safety:
Manufacturing environments are using simulated learning to replicate disasters such as faulty equipment or hazardous scenarios. Platforms can allow them to practice on virtual equipment that replicates the real thing. This can instill a sense of repetition and confidence before they hop onto live production.

There are also the literal safety implications that are developing as well. Geo-fencing capabilities within a VR environment can identify if the user is stepping out bounds and can quickly exit to reveal their actual surroundings. No more wandering into walls or unsuspecting co-workers.

Preparation:  
Peak retail times are incredibly taxing for both new and seasoned retail employees. That’s why VR tools can be incredibly useful for critical mass times such as Black Friday. Walmart is utilising Oculus Go headsets to replicate the sensory overload that is Black Friday by incorporating large volumes of people in their crowded hallway to create “situational awareness before the big day.”

VR is an excellent application to get employees comfortable with what they may experience during the busy times and to practice improving the soft skills (empathy) needed to communicate with frantic and frustrated customers.

Reduced costs:
VR is very much meant as a tool for people to engage with one another. It also reduces training and enrolment costs. Those adopting the technology save thousands of pounds spent on traditional training that includes instructors, dedicated learning centres and travel.  We’ve already seen prices dip as the technology continues to improve, with platforms like Oculus Quest coming in at a lower price point and not requiring a separate computer to operate it.

Improved decision making and learning:
When an employee completes a process, whether it be a repair or a safety walk around a manufacturing floor, the more times they do it the more they understand it. E-learning and classroom lectures have their place, but just think about throwing the perfect rounders pitch. You can read all you want on it, but it won’t make a difference until you get outside and practice.

It’s time to make VR a reality
This tool isn’t the end all, be all solution for employee training. But it is a step toward reinventing the small ways we engage in an increasingly digital world. If you want to invest in this technology for your employees I suggest you do it slowly, seeing how your workforce adapts to something many might not be familiar with. But I assure you, once they step into this world it’ll be hard to go back to the way things were before.

Joanne-Regan Iles, Executive HR Director EMEA – TTEC

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