“What can WE do in Extended Reality (XR)? It sounds so exciting!” As Chief Ideation Officer at ‘Friends With Holograms’, a full service XR Agency, how to combine XR technology with HR needs is something I’m questioned about a lot. Our agency has done extensive work in the soft skills training space with clients ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. It is this experience that I have translated in this article.
Folks are hearing about this new technology and want to know if, and how, they can benefit from it, but are often confused about what the terms mean and what the capabilities are.
A quick overview: XR (Extended Reality) is a general term that means ‘extended reality’ and refers to all of the different realities – VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality), and MR (mixed or merged reality). Virtual Reality is a totally immersive experience. The User is in a headset and in a simulated world. Graphic elements react to the direction the Users eyes turn. In some cases, the world is 360º video, in more complex cases the world is a 3D Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) environment that the User can actually move around in.
Augmented Reality, on the other hand, simulates artificial objects in the REAL world. Using sensors and algorithms, AR technology renders 3D graphics superimposed over the User’s view of the actual environment. For example, a diagram appears as you point your phone over your engine to instruct you on how to make a repair, or a Pokémon appears in when you’re aiming at different objects! Finally, in a very simplified nutshell, Mixed Reality is a combination of VR and AR.
While all have enormous potential, VR is the strongest technology for use in Human Resources. Virtual Reality is often cited for its power to generate empathy. In the soft skills area, this ability to create a situation that a User truly feels a part of is a very important element. The fact that Virtual Reality has been proven to be a superior form of training, especially in the soft skills areas, makes it an outstanding vehicle for HR. Frequently used to teach the types of empathy, mental ‘muscle memory’ and visceral learning that HR training aims for, VR achieves higher retention levels by 75%1, reduces training time by 40%2, and improves performance by 40% when compared to conventional training methods3.
Interactions between the User (the person in the headset) and another character not only feel real, but they also resonate much more strongly than even traditional ‘role playing’ exercises. When you are in a headset, you are truly “present.“ You can’t look at your phone to check your texts; your attention does not wander to what someone else is doing. You are there, with this character, having this conversation. One of the misconceptions clients often have is that we are creating videos to WATCH in a headset. The User is not watching a scenario, but rather is immersed in it, and so the experience is much more personal. We are not writing for an audience; we’re writing for a participant.
To create an effective VR experience, the first question to ask is: what do we want the User to feel after he/she takes off the headset? This is key to creating a powerful, successful piece.
Let’s take a couple of examples to show how VR can be incredibly effective in the HR space:
In a D&I piece we created recently, we wanted to have the User feel the frustration of being excluded in a company meeting. We created a voice activated VR piece, where the User was ignored and contradicted in various subtle and relatable ways. The experience provoked powerful responses in Users. In fact, after going through the piece, a business owner said ‘that was not a conversation, that was an emotional experience.’ Later he reported back that he’d made significant changes in how he runs meetings with his employees, making sure no one interrupts others and everyone has an opportunity to speak. He’d never realized how often people got shut down, even inadvertently, and was committed to making his workplace a more inclusive space. Which, of course, was exactly what we were aiming for.
In an experience we created for a consulting firm, we were asked to create training for social workers to help acclimate them to the types of difficult conversations they will encounter in the field. Caseworkers’ turnover is very high, and most of them do not get enough time with experienced mentors before they are sent out to make important decisions about whether or not to take a child into Foster Care. States that have adopted the training we created have seen a 31% reduction in turnover and a 75% cost cut, resulting in savings of millions of dollars. We created a voice-activated piece that allowed Users to ask questions to the people in the household and get responses based on the questions they chose, and then make the decision. The piece was incredibly emotional, and caseworkers got an extremely realistic opportunity to experience what it’s like to go into a home and conduct the types of interviews that they will need to do on a day-to-day basis once they are in the field.
Another relevant example is the work we are doing for a major retailer around unconscious bias. We are developing experiences that will be used to train a client’s associates and help them recognize bias. It will give them a chance to see both from the customer’s side AND the associate’s side how angry and frustrated you feel when you are being treated with disrespect and suspicion, as well as how to turn a potentially hostile interaction into a fruitful and mutually satisfactory customer/associate interaction.
For another retailer, we are creating pieces that deal with mental health. We are working in conjunction with mental health experts to create the dialogue. These scenarios will be aimed at not only the store associates but also shared with the public. The experiences will allow the User to try different ways of talking to a friend or co-worker who seems to be suffering from different forms of depression. They will see the reactions when they approach someone in both ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways and learn the proper steps to both recognizing and helping a friend in need.
A question that I’m often asked is ‘how much does it cost’? The cost of a piece depends on such a number of factors that it’s not possible to respond to that in a general way. However, the results and the cost saving from creating this type of training, both in the higher learning retention and reduction of employee turnover, make VR a very viable tool. You don’t need someone to lead a training session or take everyone away from their work to take a class. Employees can do the training on their own time, as often as needed. For a company of only a few people, it might not make sense. But if you’re talking about even a couple hundred employees, it really makes sense to invest in VR.
We work with Clients and subject matter experts to create experiences that make a real emotional impact. The aim is to allow the User to experience a situation and have a dialogue that leads to a better understanding of whatever dynamic we’re exploring. And the results are truly impressive.