Though virtual reality (VR) has been around for decades, it’s only in the last couple of years that enterprise uses have become more widespread. Companies have particularly taken an interest in using VR for training. The technology enables companies to simulate real-life scenarios with immersive video and audio and easily distribute training to employees regardless of location. Employee onboarding, specifically, is an area where forward-thinking companies are creating many useful enterprise VR applications.

For jobs that are particularly dangerous or high-stress, introducing employees to the environment through virtual reality is a smart approach. In recent years, companies have created realistic VR applications that they have used to train people from surgeons to firefighters. Virtual reality gives new employees as close an approximation to their new workplace as they can have without actually needing to be physically present. The exposure to the simulated high-stress environment should, theoretically, make the VR users more comfortable when they actually face the real-world equivalent.

VR also provides a level of gamification that is good for both physical and mental training. The hand controllers of high-end VR headsets, for example, can be used to simulate a fire hose or a surgeon’s instrument. Hotspots, or overlays placed directly on 360 media, can make VR interactive. Viewing the hotspots can initiate the launch of an image or a video. A new TSA agent can be challenged to identify suspicious activity in a 360-degree rendered airport, with hotspots providing supplemental information on why a particular activity warrants extra attention. This pre-job training and repetition can make the new employees sharper when they are in the actual environment.

There are many benefits to using VR for employee onboarding. For instance, companies can save money on sending trainers to field offices or new employees to headquarters. For industries without a lot of change, the VR training modules can be used for numerous years. And, depending on the platform, employees can participate in the VR training at home, giving them additional practice time when they’re not physically on location.

For example, Inlet Shores Group uses VR hardware and software to create 360-degree training videos for a division of the U.S. federal government. By sending VR headsets loaded with 20-minute or longer trainings to field offices, the company saves its client a considerable amount of money in travel and training costs. From day one, employees can be immersed and learning without needing to leave their offices.

The cost to create VR onboarding videos has decreased significantly in the last few years. New 360-degree cameras offer crisper, higher-resolution media without costing significantly more. Web-based VR authoring platforms allow companies to create their VR training apps completely in house. And a wide variety of headsets means companies with a range of training budgets can use VR.

Tips for Adding VR to Onboarding

1. Start with shorter VR onboarding videos. The act of entering an immersive 360-degree world can be a bit disorienting for some. Also, despite advances in VR headsets, they can be a bit cumbersome to wear for long periods. Start with short VR videos (about five minutes or less) to acclimate users to the VR environment before asking them to participate in a longer training.

2. Add interactivity to generate a more memorable training experience. VR training can be passive or active, depending on whether the app author adds interactive features like hotspot overlays or voiceover with instructions on where to look. Making VR interactive engages employees’ brains and makes the learning stickier.

3. Measure the effectiveness of VR onboarding. To find out if you’ve created an effective VR training program, gather feedback. It could be collecting anecdotal feedback from users, testing what they’ve learned in the VR environment or viewing a heatmap overlay to see where users were focusing within a scene. Like with any training, iterate to improve your VR onboarding experience.

VR Heatmap

VR heatmap

Virtual reality was once used mainly for entertainment. With a wave of new companies and technologies focused on B2B use cases, however, enterprises are starting to invest heavily in VR. If your company has a significant number of new employees coming on board, and they’re in different locations or will be doing high-risk jobs, consider adding VR to your onboarding. The cost is likely to be significantly less than you might expect.