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How is VR used in the workplace?

Deep dive
Professional development
min read
Woman in a white sweater taking off a VR headset

You’ve probably heard the term “Virtual Reality (VR)” thrown around.

Most folks associate VR with being used for recreational purposes. We’ve seen VR used to enhance the gaming experience for video games by immersing the gamer in virtual worlds.

However, from a recreational perspective, we’ve also seen how it can be used for good. Nursing homes are using it to optimize the quality of life for senior citizens. Clinical therapists are using VR experiences to help patients work through fears. They also can be a powerful tool for the workplace and, specifically, skills training.

So, how is VR used at work?

  • Sprouts is using it to onboard a large workforce during a pandemic.
  • Verizon is using virtual experiences to prepare retail associates for emergencies.
  • Walmart is using VR to upskill employees in de-escalation skills when dealing with agitated customers.  

Before we delve into which industries are using VR, it is important to understand the framework of why it is a powerful tool.

Enter immersive learning

Immersive learning is an experiential training methodology that uses VR experiences to simulate real-world scenarios and train employees in safe and engaging virtual spaces.

At Strivr, we combine the sense of presence of VR with learning theory, data science, and spatial design to improve effectiveness and user engagement.

By using virtual spaces to immerse employees into “real” work situations, immersive learning with VR capitalizes on proven best practices for behavioral learning. This helps improve learner engagement, preparedness, knowledge retention, and confidence.

Fortune 500 organizations are realizing these benefits at scale with an immersive platform and building skills around situational awareness, operational procedures, safety, customer service, and soft skills. Let’s look at some industry verticals where VR is already making a difference.

How is VR used to create a safe office setting?

As new ways to work emerge, leaders are faced with a growing challenge around teaching and building soft skills in their organizations. How can managers keep employees engaged and communicate with empathy? How do you provide effective feedback to remote employees? What is the best way to share news in a crisis?

Unlike traditional forms of soft skills training like watching videos, reviewing case studies, or even role-playing, scientific research has shown that VR is a better medium for soft skills training, from active listening to conflict resolution and emotional intelligence.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) training is a major priority for most enterprise organizations today. Teaching inclusive behaviors and preparing teams and managers for tough conversations in the workplace is at the heart of creating diverse and inclusive companies.

For the most effective learning to take place, DE&I training modules immerse learners in a realistic scenario to observe a colleague exhibiting non-inclusive behaviors. Then, they participate in an interactive, face-to-face conversation with that colleague to discuss why non-inclusive behavior is out of line with the company’s core values. The learner discovers how to stand up to and counter biases in a constructive way.

How is VR used to enhance the retail workplace?

Retailers across every category are changing the way they operate. Safely and efficiently helping customers is paramount, and onboarding new hires is more important than ever. Retailers need a proficient workforce confident to contribute right away, especially when following safety guidelines, handling new processes, and communicating with customers.

Retailers are using VR to reduce training times while improving knowledge retention for their employees.

Ever-evolving circumstances require new processes and/or equipment that associates must learn. In fact, Walmart used VR to afford their associates hands-on learning to practice performing a new process and using new equipment, which shortens their time to proficiency and doesn’t require trainers to travel nationwide.

More importantly, associates are on the floor contributing sooner because training times are significantly reduced — in some cases, from an entire day down to 15 minutes.

How is VR used to enhance the logistics employee’s onboarding experience?

With ecommerce booming, shipping and logistics companies are operating at max capacity. This means that every truck, pallet, and box must be packed quickly and efficiently for maximum utilization.

Yet logistics organizations still struggle with finding and onboarding talent that can maximize efficiency before they turnover. Not to mention, efficiency should never come at the expense of safety, even as logistics operations look to keep up with demand.

The goal is to improve speed to productivity – a key metric given the seasonality of the workforce. VR’s ability to transport the learner to a virtual environment has the potential to help logistics providers accomplish these goals.

A global logistic provider identified packing as an area where VR could help them. Warehouse workers now use VR training to practice the proper packing of items into a box, including everything from choosing the right box size to labeling. Within the VR experiences, workers are exposed to the most efficient ways to pack, building skills in situational and spatial awareness.

How is VR used to enhance customer service in financial services organizations?

Today’s financial institutions are facing a competitive talent landscape, and banking leaders need to support their organizations and employees by building critical skills using the latest technology. By addressing skills gaps with VR training, banks are increasing productivity, decreasing onboarding time, and enhancing client experiences.

Financial service companies have found the call center to be a great place to use VR training. Many organizations rely on call center agents to assist the most frustrated customers. Customer experience training in VR helps them provide better, more empathetic service on the phone or chat.

One organization was able to improve customer satisfaction ratings by 10% over the course of a few months by introducing empathy training in VR. In the VR experience, call center agents are transported back and forth between their virtual desk and the caller’s home environment, where they deal with difficulties like taking care of elderly parents or trouble understanding company policies due to language barriers.

Throughout the experience and conversation in the virtual space, learners are asked a series of questions about how to handle the situation according to company best practices, reinforcing how the company wants agents to interact with their customers.

How is VR used to enhance employee safety in the manufacturing environment?

Manufacturing requires a careful balance of productivity and safety, so manufacturing plant training must reflect that. Leaders must be able to scale the workforce quickly to ensure production efficiency and quality, and hit deadlines and profitability goals.

VR training provides mental repetitions off the line to help manufacturing associates learn the right skills to do their jobs while boosting situational awareness and knowledge of safety protocol. Manufacturers are turning to VR training because it has significantly reduced training times, safety incidents, and worker time to productivity.

One global automaker was looking for the most innovative training methods to ensure their associates were prepared to perform their jobs safely at work. With manufacturing training in VR, trainees are placed in different locations around a factory and instructed to identify safety issues. The learner is expected to identify misplaced tools, improper signage, and burnt-out overhead lights. With hazards located above, behind, and to either side of the user, the associates are immersed in examining their future environment. This creates an engaging and differentiated workplace for associates, while also keeping the factory floor safe and risk-free.

How can VR be used to help your organization?

As you’ve read above, these companies are leveraging VR experiences to teach situational awareness, operational procedures, safety, customer service, and soft skills at scale.

Industry leaders should note the top companies using VR to create a safer environment for their employees to learn and thrive at work, which translates to a better experience for their customers.

To learn more about how VR is helping FedEx, Walmart, Verizon, and other top organizations create better customer experiences for their customers, read the Harvard Business Review’s latest report: The Future of Work is Immersive.

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