HOW TO TRAIN AND COMMUNICATE TO STAFF WITH VIRTUAL REALITY
If you look at the representation of virtual reality (VR) in popular culture, the technology is only ever shown in the context of being a leisure activity, usually computer gaming.
As an industry, we do little to dispel this type of myth about using a virtual world, our advertising and corporate images always centered heavily around the gamer stereotype. We don’t even talk about social VR, even though we at Staramba see that as a big part of our future with MATERIA.ONE
There are, though, numerous applications for business in VR, apart from just video games. Already, using a VR platform is common in areas such as medicine to help with the training of doctors, while computer-generated worlds based on virtual reality technology have been used to train pilots for decades. But there is one area in which the technology is currently underused, which is for large-scale communication and internal training at large companies.
THE COSTS OF TRAINING
It is quite common for organizations to spend considerable amounts to send their staff around the world for business meetings, often for something that lasts for only a couple of hours. This is not only expensive, but an environmental disaster and puts pressure on the relationships those staff have with their families.
Firstly, the costs. Using our home city of Berlin as a starting point, I looked over the costs of flights from there to different cities around the world. A return flight for one person to New York costs around EUR 400 to 500, and more when flying to Tokyo (EUR 500 to 600) or Sydney (EUR 800 to 1,200).
From there, factor in the daily cost of hotels, car rental, food, and insurance. Travelex published a study of the daily cost to a company sending their staff on business trips or away for internal training. For Riyadh, this was £1,429; Beijing, £900; and New York, £634.
There is a terrible environmental impact as well. In 2010, the UK’s The Guardian newspaper reported on the true contribution that flying made to the country’s CO2 emissions1. The paper stated that 6.3 per cent of the nation’s carbon emissions came from flying, although that may be much, much lower than the actual amount. About 2.5 times lower, to be exact.
USING VR TO TRAIN STAFF
There has to be a better way of doing this. It has to be a method by which staff members can be together, even if not sitting within the same room.
A method we would propose is the use of a VR world. By equipping employees with virtual reality headsets such as the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, and with motion tracking capabilities, companies could begin to recover the initial outlay after the first couple of training sessions in VR experiences
The benefits are numerous and tangible:
- Environmental: Each return flight from Berlin to New York produces nearly a metric ton of CO2 per person. According to Trees.org2, nearly 64 trees would need to be planted per person per flight in order to offset the carbon.
- Costs to Business: As elucidated above, there are numerous costs to business, including flights, hotels, taxis, car rentals, per diems, and the cost of paying employees overtime.
- Time Benefits: While the dollar cost of deploying staff is well documented, organizations should question how they benefit by having their most-valued personnel travelling for days at a time. Is it not more beneficial, at least in some instances, to have these people at home?
- Administrative Benefits: It is far easier to cancel a VR meeting than to reorganize the details of a business trip. VR meetings are also easier to reschedule and to adjust if there are last-minute changes.
COMMUNICATING WITH STAFF THROUGH VR
There is another, wider use for a VR system in the corporate world. Whereas many companies rely on internal publications and email newsletters to communicate with their staff in the real world, these are often an ineffective form of communication.
While internally-driven print publications often have high prestige, they are also time-consuming and onerous to put together, and easily ignored. The information in them is often out of date by the time of printing.
While the statistics around printed material are largely anecdotal, numbers from Poppulo3 paint a picture of the uptake by staff of electronically-delivered communications. Only 63 per cent of all emails are opened within an organization, with a click-through rate (CTR) of only 12 per cent. For actual newsletters delivered through email, the numbers are not much better: 58 per cent average open rate, with a CTR of only 14 per cent.
A better solution, then, may be an auditorium within a virtual reality experience that is able to host an unlimited number of participants. Those giving the announcements could take part from anywhere in the world, a luxury also extended to the participants.
There are numerous benefits. Firstly, it helps with personalizing and humanizing the messages that companies send to their staff. Instead of being just a collection of names on an email, recipients more closely associate thoughts and ideas with the people espousing them. Secondly, making a public announcement into a public ‘event’ means increases the chances of the ideas contained being successfully transmitted.
And yet, despite these benefits, companies are still slow to adopt this technology for communicating with and training staff. Some outliers, such as Lufthansa4, adopted VR in their training processes years before. As more and more organizations recognize the benefit, we believe that we are likely to see an arms race as development is increasingly pushed as part of a business case for firms.
As Henry Ford said (or probably didn’t) when asked about innovation: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”5
- ‘Aviation Q&A: The Impact of Flying on the Environment’, The Guardian theguardian.com/environment/2010/apr/06/aviation-q-and-a
- Figures obtained from Trees.org.
- ‘What’s a good Open Rate for Employee Emails? Internal Email Benchmarks’, Poppulo poppulo.com/blog/infographic-whats-a-good-open-rate-for-employee-emails-internal-email-benchmarks
- LAT Uses Virtual Reality for Flight Attendant Training’, Career.aero career.aero/site/en/news/806-lufthansa-flugbegleiter-ausbildung
- ‘Henry Ford, Innovation, and That ‘Faster Horse Quote’, Harvard Business Review hbr.org/2011/08/henry-ford-never-said-the-fast