Move over, video games. Turns out virtual reality (VR) has some legitimate value in the enterprise. In fact, companies like UPS, Walmart and KFC are already using VR technology to bring a new bang to their employee training programs. From a business perspective, this might be the spark that finally lights a fire under VR’s sluggish move to the mainstream. In fact, it might even be the next big disruptor—not for gaming, but for the $160-million training industry.
Why bring VR to the workplace?
Face it: employee training is boring. All over the world, on any given day, you’ll find employees staring off into space as their HR managers force them to undergo any number of mandatory training programs, from trying a new software program to learning more about customer analytics. I’d don’t blame employees for being bored. You’re learning from a book or from someone else’s experience. But what it that didn’t have to be the case? What if training weren’t so boring? What if employees actually loved—and learned—from it?
That’s what companies like Walmart are hoping for as they invest in VR technology to train employees for the seasonal chaos that is Black Friday or even emergency situations that would be hard to simulate in real life. Using a VR simulator, employees can get a sense for both sides of the shopping experience—how it feels to work, but also how it feels to shop, seek help, and undoubtedly get a bit trampled in the process. In this way, Walmart no longer has to close their eyes and hope for the best after telling their employees how crazy the holiday season can be; they can rest assured that employees fully understand and feel prepared for it. The results? Good enough for Walmart to bring the technology to nearly 200 training centers with the hopes of eventually putting a VR training room in every store.
But there must be more to VR than crazy holiday shopping, right? Absolutely. In fact, I’d say the value of VR is highest in industries where there exists some time of danger or health risk, such as construction zones, police departments, surgical environments, or military applications. In fact, some 50 countries are already using VR to simulate various military experiences safely. Imagine being able to test your skills in battle—without having to fight a fellow soldier; being able to learn to manage a crane virtually—without the risk of dropping tons of brick or cement on your fellow co-workers; being able to perform open heart surgery without potentially injuring a live patient with rookie mistakes. All of these things are possible with VR. And what’s more: they’re just the tip of the iceberg. As the technology becomes more mainstream, and the technology supporting it—namely VR goggles—become more sophisticated and easier to manage on a large scale, I’m betting even more uses will abound.
How effective is it?
More than you’d think. Stivr, the developer of the VR training software used by Walmart, says retention with VR can be up to 75 percent, compared to 10 percent with reading and lectures. But one of the biggest benefits: it’s cost effective, as well. Farmers Insurance, for instance, found that it could simulate far more insurance claim scenarios with VR than it could with its single building location in the physical environment. After investing $400,000 in VR training, the company can use six different floor plans, 500 damage scenarios, and thousands of training experiences—leading to far more accurate claims. Even better: they can reduce travel to training up to $300,000/year.
UPS found similar benefits. Using VR, UPS drivers can train on routes, learn to make deliveries, and avoid or identify real-world situations they might encounter on a typical route without ever having to get in a truck. That doesn’t just save gas and travel time. That means employees can train anywhere, any time of day and get the same consistent know-how they need to be effective once they start their own route.
Yes, the cost to develop your own VR program may be expensive on the front end, but on the back-side, it can save time, money, and stress in ensuring your employees are properly trained. And like most technology nowadays it can be stored and saved for future use, meaning the “experiences” gained from it can be used over and over again.
Is VR training perfect? Not yet. Is real-world perfect? No, but close. And in my view, anything that helps better prepare people to save lives or serve customers can only be a benefit in today’s digital environment—especially if it helps save money, as well.