Virtual reality has become the archetypal image for the future of work. Whether it’s flicking through the paper, scrolling your LinkedIn feed or an advert on the tube, a human wearing a VR headset represents the future. As CEO of an enterprise VR training company who speaks with people in the space everyday, the question I find myself asking a lot is when will the media stop referring to virtual reality as the future of work?
Simulated learning experiences are pushing on 100 years old, with the first flight simulator being developed in 1929. Virtual reality as a concept gathered pace from 1960 onwards with the first head-mounted display being developed, and by 1987, the term ‘Virtual Reality’ was popularised as an all-encompassing term to describe simulated experiences through a wearable headset.
It’s clear to see that our realisation of the potential for simulated experiences has a long history. NASA, Sega and Nintendo were all using VR prior to the millennium, and in 2001, Disney’s Monsters Inc showed monsters training to scare children using virtual reality.
Virtual reality has of course developed significantly in recent years, and continues to do so. You only have to look at the recent news of a new Oculus headset from Facebook, and how Apple and Microsoft are now moving into the market. Virtual reality has undergone incredible changes and it will continue to do with the introduction of 5G and further developments in cloud-computing.
So why do we keep referring to it as the future? I am playing devil’s advocate slightly – of course, for many businesses virtual reality is their future. It’s unrealistic to imagine that today everyone is using this technology to train staff, play games or offer customers immersive experiences. The idea of virtual reality making it to our working world, especially for those in white collar jobs, is unfathomable for many.
But let’s not fall into the trap of calling virtual reality a tool for the future workplace. Some of the world’s largest and leading businesses who employ thousands of people are already using VR as part of their everyday experience.
Nestlé, the world’s largest food and beverage company, utilises VR content across a number of topics relevant to their business. “Whether this is teaching consumers about our sustainable sourcing programs for coffee products, or training employees on how to safely conduct operations inside one of our 400+ factories worldwide, VR plays a significant role in how we train and educate our workforce and interact with consumers” says Richard Ness, Immersive Experience Lead at Nestlé.
Multinational oil and gas company BP also uses VR across their organisation to train staff in everything from safety awareness to diversity and inclusion. “How do we train individuals that have never been to these places, or are maybe traveling offshore for the first time? We use VR to make the transition to an offshore platform as easy as possible. For example, we give them an idea of where the mess hall is and where they will be sleeping. We give them a way to onboard at a facility without ever having set foot in there” said Anthony Del Barto, Learning Technology Manager at BP.
The pandemic caused mass disruption across many businesses training regimes, but for those with VR technology in place, disruption in comparison has been miniscule. Astronauts have continued to train for space explorations, businesses have continued to onboard new employees into their offices, and people have continued to learn life-saving skills, from doctors learning how to conduct open heart surgery, all the way to learning how to keep people safe as a police officer.
Leading businesses are using virtual reality to train their staff not just in the future, but today. As a result, their staff are learning faster and are more engaged with the training they are doing. With engagement comes satisfaction, which leads to higher staff retention and a strong return on investment. And with all these factors comes business resilience, which in today’s world is more valuable than ever.