Working from home has become the new normal. While we all make adjustments, now is the time for organizations to look to virtual reality as a viable medium for productivity and inter-team communications.
With the uncertainty of a timeline around the end of COVID-19 and an increase in investments made into virtual team communication, working remotely is likely here to stay. But, working from home comes with a unique set of challenges. While stuck in the confines of our own homes, problems with remote work range from isolation, difficulties sharing space with others, a lack of focus, and a lack of work-life balance.
The Problems with Video and Voice Calls
While we all balance this new adjustment, some teams are turning to video conferencing, voice calls, and lengthy emails to stay connected. After long periods of use, these communication tools oftentimes deter productivity. Conference calls have distracted listeners, frequent interruptions and connectivity issues. Video conferencing faces similar pitfalls.
The Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC) even wrote a guide to make video calls feel less painful! For example, video conference attendees can feel distracted by seeing their own appearance in unflattering camera lighting. When it comes to adjusting to the new workplace from home, business coach Colin James tells the Australian Broadcast Corporation to avoid looking at themselves during a video call. In an interview with ABC RN’s This Working Life, James said, “Imagine if we were all sitting in a meeting in a real space and everyone had a mirror in front of them and they just looked at themselves in the mirror. That’s what it looks like on these video conferences — people are just gazing wistfully at their faces.”
Current mainstream technologies for connecting with others make remote collaboration frustrating.
Why Virtual Reality Meetings are Better
Enter virtual reality, a new realm of experiences that immerse the user into a virtual world and isolates them from their physical environment. Since they are removed from distractions—like the temptation to check social media notifications—VR users report having higher engagement in these immersive experiences.
While actively participating in VR experiences, users are more likely to be productive and engaged with their virtual surroundings. Hugh Seaton, the General Manager of Adept Reality, a Glimpse Group subsidiary company focused on corporate training, gave a 2020 webinar on learning technologies for the Association for Talent Development. When comparing VR to video conferences, Seaton said “All of us now are living our life on Zoom. But, how many times have you been on a Zoom call where you’re doing something else to the side? VR does not allow you to do that. In VR you have a headset on that blocks out the rest of the world. So no phones, no other email, no social media. You’re in there with the experience—full immersion in a way that nothing else really does. Because of that full immersion, it creates the illusion that you are where we say you are.”
VR Makes Team Connections Meaningful
As a virtual avatar, each user is able to engage more meaningfully with others. Unlike phone calls or video conferences, VR gives users the ability to maintain sustained eye contact with somebody else. In real life, we make eye contact to establish respect and demonstrate to someone that we are paying attention. Much like real life, the same can be done in VR. Even in VR, eye contact is what establishes a connection between individuals and facilitates engagement.
Foretell Reality is a subsidiary company of The Glimpse Group and specializes in using VR as a tool for remote collaboration, corporate communication, therapy, and support. From studying the effects of VR therapy with Yale School of Medicine, to educating the next generation of MBA students with business-based soft skill VR simulations, Foretell’s robust platform demonstrates how VR will foster a new era of interactions. According to Foretell’s Strategic Advisor, Jonathan Collins, “Virtual reality offers a persistent, social environment that allows vendors to present their products and services in real-world settings to a focused audience of one or many.”
VR is celebrated for its ability to elicit empathy and ability to allow users to feel present with one another. Empathy is the ability to understand another’s experience and feeling. The feeling of presence and empathy is advantageous for virtual meetings as it can lead to full attention, mutual respect, and enhanced understanding among colleagues.
VR Can Lead to Positive Prosocial Behaviors
Because of its ability to place participants in the center of the experience, virtual reality is widely viewed as “the ultimate empathy machine.”
Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab has run a number of studies to examine the relationship between VR and empathy. In one research project titled, “Empathy at Scale,” participants wore headsets and saw the world from a different point of view, such as someone who was elderly or colorblind. Seeing the world from a different perspective made the study participants more likely to help others who were different from them. As Jeremy Bailenson, the director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, told WIRED magazine, “We are entering an era that is unprecedented in human history, where you can transform the self and [you can] experience anything the animator can fathom. The research shows it can have a deep effect on behavior.”
A 2018 review article in the Journal Frontiers in Robotics and AI sought to explore the implications of virtual reality on empathetic training. The study found that virtual reality users are more likely to understand the experience from a different perspective. The article found, “virtual reality (VR) appears to allow individuals to step into someone else’s shoes, through a perceptual illusion called embodiment, or the body ownership illusion.”
VR is a Better Learning Tool
Virtual reality allows for more effective virtual training to take place. Aside from having a better understanding of the customer journey, VR can be a better tool to connect employees—especially those now working remotely. Video conferences aim to connect individuals and establish relationships. Virtual reality reaches these goals by enhancing relationships through empathy and attentiveness.
The connection between virtual reality and empathy has been widely discussed; industries have responded by implementing VR in training and video conferencing. Hilton, Tyson, Walmart, and Lockheed Martin are among the corporations who have utilized this technology to inspire empathy in their employees. According to Venturebeat, virtual reality has allowed Walmart to improve training test scores for 70% of associates and Fidelity to grow customer satisfaction by 10%.
VR Mimics Social Interaction
Working remotely ought to nurture peer to peer interactions. We no longer need archaic, ineffective communication tools. VR can mimic peer to peer interactions. Even without physical contact, VR interactions add dimension and a sense of realism. With video conferences, people understand they are looking at a computer screen. Although we may not want to admit it, cognitively our brain processes that the person on a computer screen is not physically with us. This lack of presence leads to a lack of focus.
Foretell Reality’s Jonathan Collins continues, “As effective as Zoom, WebEx, or Slack may be at facilitating internal communication, they simply do not have the features and framework to replicate human interactions in a three-dimensional world.” Along with being a solution to connectivity, VR interactions aids in feelings of social isolation. By feeling virtually present, VR can mitigate the fallout of not physically being together.
Time to Turn to VR
COVID-19 has flipped the script on everyday life. The aftermath of travel restrictions and social distancing will become more prevalent as we prepare for our future. 2020 will be the year that video conferencing fatigue becomes a real challenge. Virtual reality helps people stay connected to one another and their work.
It is easy to see why many organizations have turned to virtual reality. They are able to promote the same content to a more engaged audience, more effectively.
Written by Lyron Bentovim. Have you read?
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