By ALEXANDER YOUNG for Talent Management & HR
In what seems like the blink of an eye, traditional workplace events – chats by the water-cooler; chill-out meets or Friday drinks – have, for many employees, become things of the past. ‘Workplace culture’ as we once knew it is undergoing a seismic shift. As employment increasingly becomes remote or hybrid, HR professionals must get to grips with what this means for their own organizations.
Emerging from the fall-out of the pandemic however, is technology that some may not yet have heard of – technology which has the potential to supercharge organizations and employee cultures once more. It’s called XR (or ‘Extended Reality’) technology. If you haven’t yet looked at it, it’s probably time you should. It could be just the answer HR professionals have been looking for.
What is XR?
XR is often referred to as the coming together of virtual reality (VR) technology and augmented reality (AR) technology – where any human-to-PC screen interface is modified by either 1) immersing the user in a virtual environment; 2) adding to, or augmenting, the user’s surroundings (AR); or 3) both of those. As with most VR-type tech, it began in gaming. But today it’s increasing having B2C use (such as ‘try before you buy experiences’, where you can see how furniture, for example, might look in your own room), and inevitably, it’s developing business-to-employee uses too.
Cloud-based XR platforms can now provide employees with easy and on-demand access to a variety of immersive content. This includes 360-degree bespoke video, virtual spaces for collaboration and interaction with colleagues, live streaming of events and webinars, and even AI-powered virtual humans that facilitate employee soft-skills training. The key attraction of the technology is that it is cost-efficient, but also the process of creating bespoke content is pretty easy. It’s also scalable, and the impact can be much better measured and quantified.
But exactly how is XR tech being used to redefine culture in the new workplace? Let’s find out…
1) XR facilitates truly flexible hybrid working
For most employees, the ability to work from home, on their own schedule, is now a ‘must’. But without the right technologies and systems in place, remote work can turn into a remote nightmare of miscommunication, isolation and low productivity. XR tech is an excellent solution to the most common problems faced by remote workers. For example, by running immersive virtual meetings (where employees interact as avatars), XR technology can support collaboration in hybrid teams. Setting up virtual offices is also becoming popular, as these XR-mediated spaces can replicate the creative energy of the in-person office without any of the distractions or inconveniences of traveling to a physical location. They can be equipped with breakout rooms, classrooms, deep-work spaces and even XR gyms!
2) XR supports skill building
Managing employee training is an oft-cited headache for HR professionals. That’s because traditional (in-person or online) skills training and onboarding is expensive, can be boring, and is invariably time-consuming. But in 2022, the status quo is changing. Organizations can now create their own XR training and onboarding content that is interactive, engaging and scalable. Complex technical skills – including equipment operation – can be practiced repeatedly in a zero-risk virtual environment. Soft skills – such as communication – can be honed with the help of a never-tiring virtual human. Built-in AI-powered feedback also provides in-depth analysis of performance, helping HR accurately identify areas where colleagues need extra support to improve. XR up-skilling is more impactful too. Studies have shown that learners who use a virtual platform can improve their performance by up to 230% and reduce skill fade by 52%. This means that team members can spend less time training and more time on the work that matters.
3) XR creates strong communities
While we all know flexible work and training are part of workplace culture, it’s the interactions between colleagues that arguably have the biggest impact on culture overall. Connection matters to teams. Recent data revealed 48% of employees complained they felt isolated from their coworkers during the pandemic; while 56% wished they had a community where they could get advice and 64% wished they had a way to ask questions of industry peers. If HR teams are to orchestrate a supportive community, colleagues need opportunities for non-work related interaction in informal contexts. And it’s virtual and hybrid events that are soaring in popularity, thanks to them offering of a more inclusive and flexible approach to workplace socializing. From coffee mornings to live music streaming and games nights, there are limitless possibilities when it comes to delivering impactful virtual events. Chats and breakout spaces support organic relationship building, and interactive quizzes or competitions can help boost engagement and break the ice. And as an added bonus, no one is at risk of missing that last train home.
Be the future you want to be
Yes, future workplaces will look and feel very different to the workplaces of old. But this means HRs’ approach to building and maintaining workplace culture needs to evolve and adapt. With the correct thought however, XR technology could be the next big opportunity to explore. The power of new immersive technologies really does have the capacity to drive business (and employee) success.