Daydreaming about the office?

Pause, take a breath and accept that most of us will be remote for the spring. Some tech companies, such as Google, plan on staying remote until the summer. Even if a vaccine becomes available to the public, the ramifications of COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on the way people work.

The dynamics of modern work are evolving, and part of that evolution includes the adoption of new technologies like virtual reality (VR). While there are certain advantages of working from home, such as a lack of commute and more time to focus, employees can feel tired by some aspects of remote work. Even if it’s a “quick meeting,” employees and senior leaders are feeling the fatigue from video conference calls. While we may have instantaneous two-way communication with video chats or phone calls, there are certain psychosocial benefits that come from communicating with others in person.

Luckily, VR technology can bring about the same benefits of an in-person gathering, with the convenience of working from home. As companies plan for 2021, more of them ought to look to the advantages of VR for meetings, training, project planning and more. This technology provides a new and more efficient way to enhance performance and ideation.

A new report from MarketDigits predicts that the VR and augmented reality (AR) industry will undergo significant global expansion by 2026. Sectors such as health care, marketing, manufacturing and training are leading the way in adopting this technology. Organizations that care about the future of employee performance must look toward adopting these tools, too.

While the list of benefits is long, here are four reasons why companies should include VR technology in their 2021 remote work setup:

1. It Raises Engagement and Accelerates Learning

Training new employees in person is a costly process. On-site training requires companies to hire instructors, and scheduling can be tricky. Plus, many companies may not be inclined to include in-person training in their 2021 onboarding agenda. On the other hand, many remote learning approaches present challenges. While learners can watch training videos at their convenience, there is no guarantee that they will pay attention to content. In traditional online learning, learners are often disengaged because of the physical and figurative gap between trainer and trainee.

When compared to video or text-based materials, VR provides a more enriching training experience than the gap often caused when people are not physically present. As Jay Van Buren, founder and chief executive officer of educational VR company Early Adopter says, VR provides a way for people to “engage … asynchronously.” Even if employees are not together, they can feel just as engaged as if they were learning in the same space.

2. It Enables Virtual Site Visits

VR “bridges the gap between theory and practice,” as Dom Barnard, founder of virtual speech, says, by enabling participants to learn about a topic and then experience it in an interactive 3D world, making learning a memorable experience.

Unlike reading about a situation, VR enables employees to feel like they are experiencing it. Not only can employees visit job sites, but they also have the opportunity to experience a simulation multiple times. This scalability and ability for repetition would be costly to replicate “in real life.”

3. It Creates a Safe Learning Environment

VR provides employers with a safe training environment that can demonstrate the real-world consequences for workplace mistakes. These simulations can be beneficial when training employees about unsafe or difficult-to-replicate situations. Unlike a two-dimensional training game or a text on a training quiz, VR feels lifelike. This ability to mimic real life helps to ensure that employees will take their training seriously.

Anyone can try to prepare for a dangerous situation, but it is impossible for someone to know how he or she would actually react. VR can help by, for example, simulating shut-down procedures at an oil refinery. Employees can learn from their mistakes in the VR simulations and reduce the probability of making an error “in real life.”

4. It Improves Soft Skill Training

Soft skills, such as public speaking, negotiation and networking, can be difficult to teach. VR is a first-of-its-kind tool for providing employees with simulations focused on soft skills enhancement. These tools can even enhance diversity, inclusion and harassment training.

According to Sophie Thompson, co-foudner of VirtualSpeech, the use of simulations for diversity training can help “reduce unconscious bias and improve communication between employees when confronted with discrimination.” Similarly, simulations for sexual harassment training can take into account how to notice hard-to-detect non-verbal communication nuances; ways to intervene as a bystander; and, most importantly, how to identify sexual harassment in the workplace.

The Future of VR in Learning

Many organizations have begun implementing VR as part of the learning and training process. Despite the initial cost of buying and setting up the equipment, it is an investment for the future. VR is an essential asset for remote learning. It is scalable across the organization and customizable for each learner, providing limitless opportunities for employee training and talent development.