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VR and the remote working future

Charlie Neuner, strategy, XR, PwC believes virtual reality can be effective for remote working and collaboration, with Covid-19 acting as an accelerant

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, there’s been an accelerated adoption towards remote working. According to our latest CEO survey, 86% of UK CEOs say there is an enduring shift towards remote collaboration. So much so that 77% of UK CEOs also say remote collaboration will drive long term change to their business models.

There are certain activities that are hard to recreate remotely. For example collaborative team workshops, training new joiners or your existing workforce are traditionally times you may get people together in a physical meeting space. But when you can’t bring employees safely into the classroom or workplace, virtual reality (VR) helps bridge the gap. Far more than any video conferencing software, VR has the power to make individuals feel physically near one other – and offers organisations a powerful tool for safely navigating the challenges of lockdown.

Why VR can be so effective for remote working and collaboration

Fewer distractions compared to the physical world means attendees can immerse themselves in the task. And virtual reality’s completely digital environment allows you to do things that would not be possible in the physical world – such as summoning an unlimited number of resizeable whiteboards without having to worry about space, power, or logistics.

From a training perspective, our recent VR soft skills study indicates that people who train in VR can achieve a 40% improvement in confidence compared to classroom learners. VR learners completed training four times faster than those in the classroom and were 4X more focused compared to learners using video or online based training.

How to get your VR remote working programme started
Organisations may feel apprehensive about the perceived additional logistical challenges of establishing a VR programme remotely. But they shouldn’t. We’ve been putting this to the test ourselves over lockdown and wanted to share the steps that made our deployments a success.

  • Identify and assess hardware and software partners – try out different VR headsets and sample a range of collaboration or training software. This’ll help you understand their benefits and limitations.
  • Prepare a logistics system – unless every user has their own headset, the hardware will need to be tested, cleaned, packed, shipped and returned to a base location. This is a labour-intensive process so ensure you have the right resource in place to manage it.
  • Run a pilot programme – test out your plan with a small group of people to gauge effectiveness and collect user feedback. Make any necessary improvements before rolling it out more widely.
  • Assess the entire user experience journey – consider improvements at every stage from packing the hardware to optimising user onboarding. Ideally, as much as possible should be self-facilitated but where help is required, it should be instantly and easily available.
  • Optimise your virtual space – VR enables you to create collaboration environments that wouldn’t be possible as easily in the physical world. Take advantage of that by working with project leaders to identify what is needed and build your virtual space accordingly.
  • Communicate regularly and clearly – let your users know what is happening, what is expected of them, and how you will support them. Their view of your VR implementation will be influenced heavily by your communication.
  • Support your users – set up a point of contact that users can speak to at any time. Schedule drop-in sessions for first-time users with at least another colleague. That way, one can triage hardware issues while the second receives users in the VR collaboration environment for training on how to use the software.
  • Maintain a high standard of hardware hygiene – this is especially important given current events. We have three lines of defence against any pathogens. Once a device is returned to us, we:
    • Wipe down all parts of the equipment with medical grade sanitising wipes
    • Apply UVC light to the headset and accessories
    • Cycle different headsets to meet demand, thus ensuring the time between users is maximised

We’ve successfully run virtual collaboration sessions with clients across multiple industries. Attendees have ranged from as few as three people right up to 50 and feedback has been extremely positive, highlighting the engagement and creativity it has sparked for attendees. We have had over 500 people collaborate in VR sessions since we started offering the service last year, and this number continues to increase exponentially. Our dedicated feedback surveys which are distributed after each event have shown that most attendees feel both more connected and engaged in VR compared to a video call. In addition, they also gain a real sense of presence, sharing details on how the VR space felt more like a physical place they had visited.

Aside from the team building aspect, our survey results also indicate a true benefit of VR to session productivity. The majority of attendees found it helpful to visualise key points of discussion in 3D, with tailored VR exercises allowing groups to co-create outputs which can be taken back into the real world and referred to in future discussions.

We don’t see VR replacing all physical meetings, and VR’s value will vary depending on your business requirements. But when travel is difficult or you’re aiming to be more sustainable while maintaining effective collaboration, VR can be an impactful and cost-effective way to remotely bring a team together.

If you want to learn more about how to successfully implement a virtual reality or augmented reality solution in your organisation, please contact Charlie for information: [email protected].