How Companies Use Extended Reality in the Workplace

April 29, 2021

How Companies Use Extended Reality in the Workplace

Extended reality can help move businesses future forward, drive the employee experience and simplify the hiring process, too. As extended reality becomes mainstream, companies of all sizes may be incorporating augmented and/or virtual technology into their processes. Individual sectors may have different uses for these tech platforms, but businesses across different sectors might have discovered that extended reality can transform business for the better.

How companies use extended reality in the workplace may depend on many factors, including their unique needs and maybe even their budgets, too. Businesses that have pivoted to work from home also may rely on virtual or augmented reality to create a sense of community and help employees stay connected and breach the geographic distance.

Let’s look at some of the ways that extended reality is being used internally.

What is Extended Reality?

Extended reality isn’t a unique or separate type of technology. Instead, extended reality (or XR for short) is a bit of an umbrella term that encapsulates augmented reality, mixed reality and virtual reality. All three of these platforms make up the larger ‘extended reality.’ Companies may use one or more of these platforms.

Extended Reality in the Workplace

Augmented Reality in Training

Employee training in the past meant different things in each industry. For restaurants, for example, maybe employees were given a handbook that highlighted all the safety protocols, dress codes, meal prep guidelines and other information related to an employee’s particular role. After being trained in all these areas, maybe the employee then had to take a test to ensure that they learned all the information.

Training in other industries might have looked similar, with employees receiving a handbook and going through one-on-one training sessions detailing their new job. The training processes could have taken days and might have required multiple employees to acclimate the new hire to the company.

Most companies understand that training a new employee is costly. However, the numbers and the price for this training can vary wildly by industry. According to an article on Chron, hiring or replacing a new nurse might cost about $40,000, the cost associated with hiring a new employee in the tech sector can soar to the six figures.

While replacing a seasoned employee might always be costly, training doesn’t have to be so time-consuming. So how can companies simplify the hiring process? Augmented reality could help streamline training processes.

PTC highlighted several ways that augmented reality is helping to propel employee training to another level.  The site explained that since some companies need to train employees off site, this can be expensive and remove the employee from the work environment. However, augmented reality can often be used anywhere, providing flexibility to new employees and maybe serving as a more cost-effective training tool.

Augmented reality also is able to provide more immersive training experiences, without having a co-worker sitting nearby. Some factories or manufacturing plants may use augmented reality to aid new technicians in their jobs. Perhaps augmented reality glasses show graphics on top of the machine or other work component that relays visual instruction to the tech. Augmented reality training also could include access to reference books and other critical documents.

GE Healthcare uses an Xbox and a Kinect to create their augmented reality training experiences. The employee doesn’t need to wear glasses; instead, a projector displays the data onto the work environment. If the employee makes a mistake, the technology also alerts them so it could be fixed.

Extended Reality in the Workplace

Virtual Reality In Training

Augmented reality can be used as a way to display data on top of real environments, but virtual reality allows for employee training to take place in another realm. Virtual reality can be used to prepare employees for potentially dangerous situations (like a robbery), and it also can help employees better understand how to handle specific interactions with customers. Other industries use virtual reality to simulate physical experiences—like flying an aircraft or even navigating space missions.

Last summer (June 2020) Boeing and Varjo partnered to create a virtual reality experience to enable astronauts to train on launching the Starliner space taxi. With the aid of virtual reality, astronauts enter a simulation where they can navigate the space taxi in preparation for their mission.

Supply Chain Dive reported that FedEx turned to virtual reality for its employee training to better prepare new hires. The site reported that the company had issues with employees quitting soon after starting their job, as they weren’t prepared for the physical demands. FedEx’s virtual reality experience was powered by Striver, which also created virtual reality training for Fidelity and Verizon.

PwC reported that businesses also are using virtual reality for training employees on ‘soft skills’ and conducted a study that compared the effectiveness of three different types of training for these skills; participants (new managers) used either e-learning, classroom or v-learning. Those who used v-learn modes were “275 percent more confident to apply skills learned after training.” They were also much more focused (four-times!) than those using e-learning and were much faster to train (again, four times more!) than those who used classroom instruction. Virtual learning also was “more emotionally connected to content than classroom learners.”

Extended Reality in the Workplace

Extended Reality for Collaboration

Augmented and virtual reality also help keep employees connected and collaborating, especially when Covid pushed many to work from home. Employees likely engaged in virtual meetings via platforms like Zoom. Some businesses even integrated virtual environments, as executives donned headsets to see each other even when they were miles apart…or perhaps even separated by oceans.

Augmented reality appeared in the virtual environments that employees (and students!) used to connect, learn and work together. What is augmented about Zoom and other conference platforms? Many employees used unique backgrounds that appeared behind them during conferences. These augmented backgrounds were, in fact, a form of augmented reality. Some might have used filters to create a new (and funny) identity.

Sometimes, however, these virtual experiences didn’t go quite as planned. During Covid, courts went virtual, too. And one a lawyer hilariously went viral for not knowing how to take off his cat filter. The video showing the attorney as a cat was highlighted across the internet, and, of course, made it to late-night television, too.

For schools, virtual experiences were part of keeping classes open…without having students in-person and at desks. The business of education used virtual platforms for distance learning plans. Some districts are even planning to offer virtual learning after Covid, because some students might have learned better in such an environment.

The automotive industry used virtual reality to continue car design during the pandemic. GM and Ford both used virtual reality for car design during Covid. GM’s Hummer EV was designed much faster because of virtual reality’s remotely collaborative options. As CNBC reported, GM’s team could work from home and still collaborate via the virtual.

Virtual Reality for Hiring, Too!

GMetri reports that extended reality can be integrated into the hiring process, and, with virtual reality, potential candidates enter into virtual tests to assess their suitability for the position.

However, virtual interviews also can be part of the process. GMetri explains that a virtual interview could make the process more equitable. As an avatar, the employee is masked in a way. This could possibly eliminate the potential for any type of bias.

The possibilities for using virtual reality for the interview process could be groundbreaking as it relates to eliminating these potential biases. For example, the ‘pretty privilege’ has shown to give an edge to more attractive individuals. CNBC cited a survey from Fairygodboss given to 500 individuals in charge of hiring that noted that the weight of a potential job candidate was an issue.  More than one out of five of those surveyed described a picture of an overweight woman as “lazy.” The survey had asked them to answer questions related to the individuals pictured.

An avatar-based virtual reality hiring platform could ensure that weight or other factors weren’t contributing to a candidate being filtered out for the position.

Virtual and Augmented Reality to Enhance User Experience

Separate from the employee experience, businesses also use extended reality to help market their products and enhance the user experience. Virtual try-on experiences and virtual and augmented reality showrooms help provide the consumer with a way to visualize and engage with the products before actually purchasing them.

With virtual car showrooms, users can visualize the car and even check out the different features. Augmented reality showrooms bring the car into the user’s environment. If the virtual reality experience is accessed via a headset, the user also can interact with the vehicle in some ways and/or switch out paint colors to find their perfect car shade.

Try-on experiences via virtual or augmented reality may help to minimize returns as well as provide a unique user experience. The customer can preview shades of paint on their walls, makeup products on their face or maybe even try on a new hairstyle. And if the customer doesn’t like the look, they can opt for something else.

Businesses are embracing extended reality for training, collaborating and marketing, too. Augmented and virtual reality may become an integral part of how we interview, train and even shop in the future.