With employees across the globe working remotely in light of the coronavirus pandemic, organizations are looking for innovative ways to train team members and recreate the “sense of community and togetherness” of in-person workspaces, says Chance Steiner, founder and chief executive officer of Crediful, a financial services company. By transporting remote employees into a simulated, realistic environment, virtual reality (VR) can keep them connected — and learning — throughout the pandemic. Here’s how:

1. It Offers On-demand Training

To thrive amid these uncertain economic times, organizations must remain agile, which means ensuring employees have the tools, knowledge and skills they need to overcome challenges and reach key business goals. Dr. Haru Okuda, FACEP, FSSH, executive director at the Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS), says that as the demand for training increases, “we need augmented reality and virtual reality to help our learners learn faster and more effectively.”

With on-site clinical training largely coming to a halt in light of COVID-19, VR offers health care workers realistic clinical training scenarios from the comfort of their own homes. This remote accessibility especially benefits employees who are at a greater risk of contracting the virus, including those who are over 65 years of age and/or with existing medical problems who may not be working right now due to that risk. By making training more accessible, VR can “close a lot of the [skills] gaps” the pandemic is causing across the medical field, says Okuda.

Health care isn’t the only industry using VR to train remote workers. Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions (Toshiba), a retail and point of sales (POS) solutions provider, recently began using VR and AR technology to give field technicians “the ability to have training at their fingertips, on demand, when they need it,” instead of having them travel to one-time training events, says Brian Osborne, client delivery executive at Toshiba. With VR and AR, employees can review product repair processes on their phone or tablet device and watch live videos for “real-time, more detailed” training. Although Toshiba is still rolling out its AR training, Osborne said employees’ initial feedback has been positive and the product repair experience has improved, which is one of the program’s objectives.

With in-person training events being canceled due to travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders, VR gives remote employees access to the training they need when — and where — they need it.

2. It Can Connect Remote Teams

Teams must remain aligned and connected in order to be successful. With many companies going remote in light of the pandemic, however, this alignment can be a challenge. After all, working from home means no more impromptu lunches with co-workers or morning chats by the coffee machine.

VR can connect remote teams through a “virtual workspace,” says Steiner, whose company was created to be completely remote. It enables employees “to train, interact and collaborate with their co-workers from across the country or the world.” It also simulates face-to-face conversation more effectively than a phone or even video call. According to a Forbes article by Sol Rogers, CEO and founder of immersive content studio REWIND, “In a typical conversation, a lot of information is non-verbal communication — this can be transcribed in VR. Voice tone, hesitations, head, and hand movements greatly improve the understanding of the participants’ emotions and intents.”

VR can also connect medical teams that “don’t necessarily work together” under normal conditions but are joining forces to help combat COVID-19, Okuda says. After completing VR training remotely, health care workers will be better aligned and ready to act as a cohesive unit on the front lines of the pandemic.

3. It Simulates Real-world Scenarios

When done right, eLearning and online training modules can effectively relay information and engage remote learners. However, VR can simulate live working conditions, giving employees in industries like health care and manufacturing the ability to train in a risk-free environment. For example, Okuda says VR is “especially useful” when training surgeons, critical care and emergency medicine employees, because they can safely practice procedures. With more and more medical employees training from home in light of the pandemic, the need for realistic, safe clinical training is even more critical.

VR can also help retail employees keep their customer service skills sharp while non-essential stores remain closed during the pandemic. From relaying product information to handling stressful customer interactions, VR can simulate many of the challenges retail employees face on the sales floor. Major retailers like Lowe’s and Walmart have reported positive results after rolling out VR training. Through immersive simulations, VR can prepare retail workers to hit the ground running when non-essential stores reopen.

A New Reality

The coronavirus pandemic has forced organizations to adapt to what has become our reality for the indefinite future. Although in-person training isn’t an option right now, it is not the time for companies to put L&D on hold: Now, more than ever, companies must invest in their people. Through on-demand training, realistic simulations, and improved connection and alignment among team members, VR can help remote employees — and organizations — thrive during the pandemic.