Have you ever wanted to walk on Mars? How about taking a tour of the Seven Wonders of the World all in one day? Well, now you can! Sort of...
Welcome to the wonderful world of virtual reality, where you can experience magical far-away lands without leaving your living room.
And there's more to it than that. VR technology is slowly but steadily being adopted for business use - and it might just be the next big thing in HR.
First things first, what is virtual reality?
VR is essentially a 3D computer-created world that allows you to experience and interact with things that aren’t really there.
VR differs from other experiences such as 3D films in that it's fully immersive. It gives you the illusion, both mentally and physically, that you're somewhere else, whether that be standing on top of a mountain, walking along a sidewalk in New York City - or conducting a performance review.
To create this illusion, VR worlds are highly detailed, large in scale, and move as you move, showing you different aspects of 'reality' as you change direction.
So, what can VR do for HR?
HR is fast becoming more tech-savvy and HR professionals are now keeping an eye out for new technologies that improve productivity and streamline complex processes.
Depending on how it's used, VR has the capacity to tick both these boxes. VR has the potential to make a big impact in:
- Recruitment & hiring
- Learning & development
A Recruitment Revolution?
A business is only as good as the employees it hires, so attracting the right candidates is an essential function of the HR department.
Generation Z is now entering the workforce and as a generation often defined by their comfort around technology, it's predicted that they'll be looking for their future employers to keep up with the latest developments.
Investing in a state-of-the-art recruitment process could be an essential talent acquisition strategy for big companies in competitive industries.
VR could provide an initial screening process for more hands-on roles, allowing candidates to get a look at their potential workplace and experience the job they're applying for.
If they're the right fit for the role, this insight will only make them more likely to accept the job; if they're not a match, they're more likely to realise early on, saving time for both company and candidate.
Employers can build tailored VR experiences to pinpoint the most skilled candidates pre-interview, further expediting the hiring process.
For example, Jaguar Land Rover collaborated with the band Gorillaz to create a 'mixed reality' app that invited potential employees to take on a code-breaking challenge.
The results of the challenge were closely monitored, with the top performing candidates earning a fast-track through the recruitment process.
Once candidates are in the interview stage, VR can allow them to demonstrate practical skills.
On-the-job skills aren't easily assessed through traditional interviews, so big companies like Lloyds Bank are using custom VR scenarios in their interview process, allowing candidates to show rather than tell.
An Onboarding Shortcut
The ability of VR to simulate real-life experiences is invaluable during employee onboarding.
Particularly if a lot of on-the-job training is required for the role, VR can be a fantastic investment. As with conventional digital training, the initial set-up cost is easily repaid in savings, as the same programme can be used multiple times and other costs (like trainers, travel and facilities) are eliminated.
High risk or high stress professions may also benefit from using VR when onboarding new employees. By using a simulation, employees can be introduced to their work environment in a safe and controlled way, allowing them to feel comfortable before they take on the real thing.
This technology has already been used in the training of firefighters, giving them a realistic view of tackling a large blaze without the immediate danger.
The Future of Employee Training
Employee satisfaction is often linked to opportunities for development and progression. Usually, the more opportunities for professional development and career progression that are available to staff, the happier they'll be.
VR can make ongoing training more accessible to employees, increasing employee engagement and improving retention rates.
It means you can provide equal access to training across multiple regions. For example, say you have an office in Glasgow and one in Manchester; with virtual training, employees in both locations can access the exact same training at the exact same time.
Got a few remote-working employees? Training can be difficult to organise for those that work outside the office, especially those working across different time zones. Yet again, VR eliminates these obstacles and allows employees to get the training they need at a time that's convenient for them.
What else can VR do for business?
In manufacturing, it can be extremely time-consuming and costly to build a prototype of a new design.
VR has already proved itself to be a real game changer: Boeing and Airbus have successfully used VR to aid them in the design of new aircrafts.
The simulation allows designers to test out the reliability and performance of the new product without having to physically build it. Plus, changes can be made in a matter of hours instead of the days or weeks it would normally take.
(If only VR could somehow save us that much time on our household chores...)
VR also opens up new opportunities for businesses to market their products and services.
Online shopping is already a convenient way for time-strapped shoppers to buy from their favourite stores, but it only offers a basic look at what products are on offer. VR allows you to get up close and personal with the products.
It's been used by Audi to construct a virtual showroom where shoppers can try out driving along the surface of the moon!
OK, so what do you need to be VR-ready?
When thinking of VR, most people automatically think of Head-mounted Displays (HMDs). These are the slightly silly-looking goggles you've seen throughout this article.
These headsets respond to the movements of your head and change the images you see as you move, making it feel like you're actually looking and walking around the VR landscape.
A quick search in your mobile app store will throw up a huge number of apps that claim they can turn your phone into a VR headset. However, factors such as screen size and quality can affect how ‘real’ your experience will be.
For the best results, you should consider a specially designed HMD which has a screen for each eye and blocks out all light and other distractions from the real world, allowing you to get lost in the world on screen.
Perhaps lesser known than HMDs are Immersive Rooms. These are (funnily enough) full rooms where the VR images are projected onto the walls, and are often used for training pilots.
They give the immersive feeling of VR because the images change as you move within the room, similar to the way HMDs react to the movements of your head.
However you choose to use it, it looks like VR is here to stay.
While the typical new-technology buzz doesn’t always guarantee longevity (anyone remember Google Glass?), VR is established enough in some industries that it's almost certain to stick around.
How quickly its effects will be felt by HR is another matter. If you're lucky enough to work at a major tech company, chances are you're already experimenting with VR.
For the rest of us mere mortals, we'll likely have to wait a few years to get our hands on HMDs at work - but we're very much looking forward to seeing (experiencing?!) what future advancements will bring.
Ready to future-proof your HR skills? Find out more about our fully online CIPD HR courses.