Would You Give Your Staff The ‘Immersive Treatment’?

Immersive technologies are finding their feet in the future of work. Tech writer Gemma Church explores how immersive technology is starting to impact the world of recruitment.

This article was originally published by Allwork.Space.

In reality, a job may not always live up to your expectations. When that happens, it’s a lose-lose situation for both employers and employees. While companies suffer from low retention rates and morale, staff are unmotivated and fail to advance their careers.

But what if there was another way? What if employees could get a real taste of their new job before signing any contracts? What if that taste was in the virtual world and not the real one?

This is where the burgeoning world of immersive technology is starting to impact the world of recruitment – as well as the wider future of work.

What is immersive technology?

Immersive technology is an umbrella term for a range of technologies. These include augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR) and haptics. Each one transforms the digital experience combining the online world with a user’s sense of sight, sound and even touch.

  1. Virtual reality – this completely replaces a user’s surroundings with a digital world using a head-mounted display (HMD).
  2. Augmented reality – reality is fused with the virtual world where digital, interactive components are projected into the real world via a HMD.
  3. Mixed reality – this combines VR and AR in any number of ways.
  4. Haptics – otherwise known as ‘3D touch’ involves tactile feedback to the user based on their interactions with the digital environment. Your computer keyboard and mouse are simple haptic interfaces. Gloves and exoskeletons are more advanced examples, that can track your movement.

Where does the metaverse fit in?

The metaverse is, in many ways, the next iteration of immersive technology. Here, VR, AR, MR, haptics and other immersive technologies are being brought together in the metaverse – an increasingly complex digital landscape that (according to Meta CEO, Mark Zuckerberg) will be “the next chapter for the internet”.

“Here we are in 2021 and all our devices are still built around apps, not people. The experiences we’re allowed to build and use are more tightly controlled than ever. And high taxes on new creative ideas are stifling. This was not the way that we were meant to use technology,” he added.

How is immersive technology used?

Immersive technology is being used both inside and outside of the workplace – and the lines between the two are often blurred.

Immersive technologies are helping shoppers – both in the online world and on the high street. Users can visualise how a product will look where, for example, they can see how that new sofa looks in their living room. AR technology can even allow users to ‘place’ an item in their homes. The John Lewis Design Project VR experience is just one example where shoppers can see what their items may look like in their homes.

Product design and prototyping are also being optimised by immersive technology, allowing product development teams to quickly create virtual prototypes. This not only enables remote collaboration but also reduces costs and timescales. Customers can virtually interact with new products, helping to iron out any usability issues early on in the design lifecycle. Companies including BMW, Jaguar, and Land Rover are using VR to design prototypes of their new vehicles, for example.

Within real estate, companies can take customers on virtual tours around their buildings. Coworking spaces can use virtual tours to introduce new members to a space. Office designs could also be revolutionised using immersive technologies.

But it’s not all work, work, work.

Immersive technologies are also increasingly used in gaming and other social experiences. There have been concerts, fashion shows, even clothing brands where the likes of Balenciaga and Gucci have partnered with Fortnite and Roblox, respectively, to launch clothing collections for in-game avatars.

Many new applications are now hitting the real world. The recent pandemic has accelerated demand, according to experts, as people crave a more human, interactive experience when working from home. What’s more, immersive technologies have the potential to curb Zoom fatigue.

“For the last two years, we’re all been at home, stuck in this little box on the screen. There are limitations in what you can see, a person’s body language and everything else. Another place to play that seems more limitless is great,” said Noella via Borda, senior program manager of workplace design at Adobe, speaking during a Kadence webinar.

How can immersive technology impact the future of work?

Time will tell how the metaverse redefines the world of work. As with any emerging technology, speculation is rife. But we are already seeing a blurring of the physical and digital worlds – just as we’re seeing a blurring of our home and working lives as hybrid initiatives start to take hold.

#1 Virtual offices

Virtual offices aren’t a new concept – from Zapier to Mozilla, many businesses are already using these digital assets. But the metaverse could address many of the challenges that previous (somewhat clunky) iterations have had, replicating physical in-person interactions with a greater degree of accuracy.

These hyper-realistic virtual offices bring many benefits to businesses. An immersive office provides remote and office-based staff with a better employee experience, for example, levelling the playing field between these two types of workers.

What’s more, virtual offices are an easy (and cheap) way for businesses to expand without extending their real estate footprint.

Location-based VR is another growing area, which could unlock new flexible workspace business models. Here, a physical location hosts a VR experience, allowing users to interact in a way they can’t on an individual basis in their own homes.

#2 Promoting inclusivity

The metaverse is viewed by many as a way to increase equality, accessibility and inclusivity in the workplace. Your avatar can be anything you want it to be – and not necessarily reflect any disabilities or accessibility aids you may have. That’s not all. You can change your physical qualities – how you dress and look becomes irrelevant.

While many are quick to tout the benefits of changing your digital appearance, there are downsides. The metaverse could easily become the next venue for body dysmorphia online, for example. What’s more, it could encourage people to hide their disabilities – something that could have a detrimental effect on both health and wellbeing.

#3 Immersive recruitment

Companies are now battling over the best talent in the digital realm. Gamifying recruitment in an immersive environment is one way for employers to stand out from the crowd and build inclusive, high-performing teams.

This is not a new concept. Back in 2015, Domino’s Pizza launched the Pizza Mogul game where participants created their pizza recipes and earned money for every resulting order. The company reportedly hired participants whose pizzas were the most popular.

My Marriott Hotel is another gaming example where new staff are recruited by the hotel chain, if they can successfully run a virtual hotel.

That’s not all. Candidates are also being given a virtual flavour of the work they could be doing with a new company. Hotelier MGM Resorts, for example, now wants potential hires to experience roles virtually before accepting them. Using VR headsets, potential candidates can see if a job matches their expectations.

The interview and selection process is another avenue for immersive integration. Global consulting firm ‘Accenture’ have explored immersive technologies to test the aptitude levels of candidates. The company got quite creative with this process, immersing interviewees in a crypt in ancient Egypt to test their problem-solving skills and crack a hieroglyphic code.

Foodservice company the Compass Group also developed an immersive VR video to attract students at careers events, allowing them to take a virtual tour of the workplace using a Google cardboard headset.

#4 Onboarding

The best onboarding experience helps with staff retention – and this could be achieved by adapting the induction process using immersive technologies. Employees can experience a company’s values, ethics and culture in a more interactive manner than simply flicking through a printed induction booklet.

Virtual offices are also a useful tool during the recruitment and onboarding process, allowing candidates to sample the role and company culture. They can see where they would be working and observe a normal working environment, for example.

#5 Training and development

Training is one burgeoning area for immersive technologies and there are now examples in the military, sports and healthcare. VR and AR technologies can not only increase the quality and speed of training but also allow individuals to get more hands-on experience. Research reveals VR in the workplace could reduce staff training time by up to 60%.

This is particularly useful if an individual is required to complete high-risk training in a dangerous environment, for example. The virtual environment means they can practice their responses and coping mechanisms in high-pressure situations but without any real threat to their safety.

Virtual capability assessment can also be used to screen candidate responses to stressful situations using AR and VR technologies.

For example, combat, parachute, adventure and tank training were recorded and uploaded to YouTube 360 by The British Army. Using a VR headset, candidates could experience the training first hand. The access to this immersive experience was well-received, the army saw a 65% increase in applications in the first month, according to reports.

In conclusion

After a shaky start, immersive technologies will continue to impact the future of work for many years to come. As with any burgeoning technology, we’re only just starting to understand how and where VR, AR and the ever-growing metaverse will start to break through, changing how we work and live.

These immersive technologies have the potential to help workers collaborate and share information in real-time and in new and exciting ways, helping workers break out of those 2D boxes on a screen and experience a brave, new 3D world. Only time will tell if that virtual world is a utopian or dystopian existence.

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