For the past few years, America’s workforce has experienced intense disruption from a multitude of challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, digital transformation and what is being called “The Great Resignation.” This disruption has rippled throughout industries, forcing organizations to embed processes to adapt and causing workers to change jobs at much greater rates. While employees in all kinds of jobs are those hitting the exits, many of them are front-line workers.

One way to retain front-line workers is with an effective onboarding experience. According to research by BambooHR, effective onboarding can make employees 18 times more likely to feel highly committed to an organization. And employees who have effective onboarding experiences contribute to their teams more quickly. This is why onboarding is such a critical step in retaining your new hires on the front line.

However, making the time to onboard new hires is easier said than done. Often times, onboarding falls to seasoned professionals in the organization and ends up taking away valuable time from their own responsibilities. Shortening the duration of training can quicken new employees’ time to proficiency, enabling them to contribute toward business success and establish a sense of belonging much faster. And it can allow veteran employees to resume their work much sooner, thus allowing the business to stay productive.

A growing number of employers are turning to advanced technologies, including wearables and augmented reality (AR) to achieve this goal. In this article, we’ll take a look at how AR can quicken the ramp to proficiency during onboarding for front-line workers and allow them to feel a part of the team from day one.

Turning to Technology

Many organizations rely on outdated training methods, relying solely on paper-based manuals, eLearning or instructional videos. These training methods feature minimal interaction and do little to teach the person the job they’ll actually do.

But with the emergence of advanced technologies, such as AR, companies are starting to realize there is an alternative to antiquated methods of employee training. According to a recent survey TeamViewer conducted, of the 35% of respondents who said they are using AR for onboarding, 86% of respondents found AR has improved the quality of their training. Additionally, companies training with AR are two and a half times more likely to hit their onboarding goals.

As an example of how augmented reality is being used, AR-enabled smart glasses can serve as a live training aid, helping new team members solve problems with the assistance of experienced team members. A manufacturing worker can learn how to use specific machinery with hands-on training. More immersive on-the-job onboarding can reduce training time, create highly efficient learning environments and foster employee acceptance.

How AR Connects Employees

Here’s how mixed reality can become a practical use case in the industrial metaverse, a new ecology of deep integration between new information, new tech and the real economy: Smart glasses can provide employees with hands-free, step-by-step instructions that take them through the tasks they’ll be required to perform. New workers can quickly understand how to complete each task and not depend on an experienced employee to supervise them for any significant length of time.

If an employee has a question or needs assistance, a team member can see exactly what they see through their smart glasses and provide additional instruction. This makes training faster and more efficient. It also can engage employees more in their work than the traditional training materials mentioned earlier. Here are a few other ways that AR can support your onboarding efforts:

  • A worker puts on smart glasses and uses a personalized QR code to log in to a training library of personalized content.
  • The employee uses voice commands to pick the appropriate video and is led through a series of tasks.
  • AR can ensure the employee follows proper protocols, such as wearing protective equipment. The system could stop the employee from performing the next task until they’ve completed all appropriate steps.
  • Instructions, tips and best practices can be transmitted to the glasses via text, voice recording or video.
  • Throughout the training, the employee sees the desired outcome of the workflow. Once training is finished, they return to the main menu and can repeat the training, start a new session or complete the work without a visual aid.

Promising Returns for Learning Leaders

While companies benefit tremendously when infusing their onboarding and training processes with AR, they are also seeing improvements in their bottom line. The TeamViewer survey found that 80% of onboarding leaders expect front-line employee productivity to increase in 2023 due to new technology, while 67% said that using AR for onboarding is becoming a key competitive advantage.

These capabilities also benefit existing employees using the same technology for upskilling. This can help keep employees engaged in their careers as they continue to receive new training and skills that increase their value. This can also help retain front-line workers who feel like they’ve reached a glass ceiling at their organization.

Before embracing AR as a strategic tool for onboarding and retaining front-line workers, however, there are a few things companies should consider:

  • Understand how to initiate a successful implementation. Existing platforms and teams will likely need to be involved, including your information technology (IT) department. Determine a budget and what’s possible in house versus through a partner. As efforts scale, a combination of in house and third party will be common.
  • Ensure needed integration between software and wearables. Lack of integration remains a primary obstacle to recognizing training’s return on investment (ROI). Take stock of existing platforms and then identify potential integration synergies, as well as obstacles. For example, having a device management platform that supports smart glasses could make content delivery and support easier.
  • Identify your hardware needs. Hands-free applications will likely be the first critical facet to understand and will dictate much of the discussion afterward. If hands-free data access is needed, then smart glasses are the solution of choice.

The role of front-line workers continues to change, and business leaders need to recognize this shift. The Great Resignation has pose challenges for businesses, but the ones who can adapt to the needs of workers and create an engaging environment will continue to thrive.