Virtual training. Real results.

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People most associate the current capabilities of virtual reality with playing games and experiencing thrills. It’s a great deal of fun strapping on a headset and pretending that you are fighting dragons or riding a rollercoaster. Or, at least it can be… until you overreach and end up like this guy.

But real life and video games are very different animals. In a video game you can repeatedly die until you finally work out how to pass that tricky level. And in video games, your life and the lives of others does not depend on you getting it right first time…
Many companies have struggled to see how they can take VR out of the games sector and use it to bring real business value. It can seem like a cute piece of technology which is a bit of fun in a shopping mall but more trouble than it is worth in the workplace.
In reality, there are plenty of ways in which forward-thinking companies can use to VR to enhance or even replace current practices. Let’s focus on one aspect: Getting people ready to do the job.
Training in most organizations is still something like traditional education: new employees sit in a crowded room with other fresh recruits and get a whole bunch of theory that they then have to put into practice at a later date, or in simulations that are a poor comparison to the real situations they will face.
The big difference is the level of stress: Pretending to answer a phone call with a colleague is a lot different to the stress you feel on your first day in the call center when the phone finally rings. That is the moment of truth.
Here we take a look at 3 ways in which VR can help better prepare people for jobs:

Safety first

Sometimes you get one shot-and not being ready can cost more than your job. Virtual reality is already being pioneered in the training of military personnel, such as medics and bomb disposal experts. It represents a cost-effective solution to training people for situations that are nearly impossible to recreate in the real world.

Although VR will never fully prepare trainees for the realities of high pressure life-or-death situations, it can certainly enhance the training experience until the new recruits are ready for more immersive experiences. Take fire fighters as an example. Rather than watching videos of what it is like to enter a burning building, new recruits could put on a VR headset and get a more authentic walk-through training session. The next level could be to use VR in a tailored environment, such as a room heated to replicate the intensity fire fighters feel when entering a burning building. The next step is then to take off the VR headset and step into the training tower and fight controlled fires.
In such cases VR is not just a cost-cutting exercise, it is a logical progression that would help more people get through the rigors of training by allowing them to take baby steps through the process.

Stage fright

Stressful situations can strike fear into people in all kinds of professions. Even the very best can lose their nerve. All-round musical genius Kate Bush took to the stage in 1979 and found the whole experience so overwhelming that it was not until 35 years later that she was able to perform full concerts again.

As a lover of all things technological, one can only wonder whether the inimitable Ms Bush would have been helped by something like our modern VR back in the early 1980s.
Nothing can recreate the sight, sound, and smell of a crowd of thousands, but perhaps theatrical and musical performers struck down by stage fright could practice with a VR headset to get used to performing in front of a “live” crowd.
Of course, there can be only one Kate Bush, but people in all businesses will have to stand in front of a large audience and give a speech or presentation at some point in their careers. VR could be used to take people from nervous speakers to the great orators of the generation. All a company needs to do is have a small (preferably sound-proofed!) room in which workers can use technology to practice real speaking in front of a virtual crowded room.

“Sorry, it’s my first day”

It doesn’t have to be most stressful and extreme professions in which VR can help prepare people for their jobs. Even more basic employment can benefit from a little virtual training. Imagine you run a café. There is nothing worse for customers than being served by a person on their first day who doesn’t know where the napkins are kept, which button serves a macchiato instead of a latte, and where to find the delete option on the cash register.
Most restaurants, shops, and businesses with more basic customer service positions prefer an “in at the deep end” approach to onboarding. The excuse for this is that time and budget are limited. But investing in a virtual reality training headset that newcomers could use for just a few hours before walking on to the shop floor is an expense that is recouped in no time at all. This could be a simple app similar to those used by estate agents; instead of looking in the closets, workers are checking out where things are behind the counter and how the shop floor functions

And the business value is measurable even for small businesses. The days when new recruits are on the shop floor mean longer lines, slower service, and less customer satisfaction. With so many options for consumers nowadays, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Allowing new recruits to get acquainted with the layout of a virtual version of the workplace before they step out in the real thing makes for better business through more professional service.

Even if these examples may seem tangential to your business, training is one area in which VR can be of almost universal benefit to businesses. Whether it is about saving lives or just saving time, there is value in looking at an investment in VR to augment training and give new recruits practical experience before they start work.

Post by Timothy Clayton
Graphics by Anna Langiewicz