It’s no longer enough to find employees who can physically do the job. Organizations are searching for employees who not only possess the traditional hard skills, but also possess creativity, problem-solving skills, adaptability and leadership. These soft skills bring integrity and ingenuity to the workplace, allowing organizations to keep up with the rapidly changing demands of a modern economy.

With employee retention, upskilling and reskilling top of mind for organizations, training has become a top priority. In addition to training the more traditional hard skills, modern training modules also aim to develop the soft skills necessary to function in today’s business world. But such training has become even more challenging, given that more employees are working remotely.

The challenge is this: How can organizations engage their employees in ongoing training and measure their retention when they are no longer located in the same space? For some cutting-edge organizations, the answer is found by using virtual reality (VR) technology. VR allows organizations to train both hard and soft skills by using the same training modalities, allowing them to invest in one set of equipment to accomplish more than one crucial goal.

VR training, especially when combined with other training modalities in a blended learning environment, offers employees the opportunity to learn at their own pace, and provides managers with in-depth insights to better understand how their training contributes to the greater business.

As VR technology continues to evolve, its use will become more ubiquitous. The flexibility of VR training can revolutionize your ability to improve your employees’ performance and engagement for the long haul.

VR Training is Not a Fad

Virtual reality has long been used in gaming and to create other recreational activities. That often makes it difficult for organizational trainers to take it seriously in the realm of training employees. But as more organizations recognize the advantages VR training has when combined with traditional training modalities, the possibilities for growth suddenly become more apparent.

Considering that nearly half of VR’s enterprise users are educational companies and institutions, VR is rapidly establishing itself as a valuable educational and training tool. From manufacturing to retail companies, VR is being used to immerse learners and trainees in common workplace situations to practice daily tasks and skills.

An advantage for organizations is that, once invested, the technology can be used to train employees on hard skills and soft skills seamlessly. It also allows training managers to easily update training materials as job requirements and organization-wide standards change. Though it may cost more to invest in VR training technology, the long-term payoffs are much greater.

Flexibility Is Key

What makes VR training so innovative is that it can be utilized across diverse skill sets. For example, it can be used in intensive technical training to teach employees hard skills in a safe environment — and the same equipment can be used for sales role-playing as well as communication building.

With the increased use of haptic gloves (see sidebar), which allow more realistic VR immersion in tasks, VR will continue to improve its ability to mirror real-life situations more realistically than ever before. In addition to the use of haptic gloves, improvements in the hardware will also continue to make VR training more accessible. Employees will increasingly be more ready to tackle tasks in real life after VR training.

But the usefulness of VR training isn’t limited to hard skills. As the technology has improved, so too has its ability to train soft skills. From diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) topics to how to lead a team effectively, improving VR technology allows organizations to recreate workplace situations that could be more difficult or uncomfortable to recreate with in-person training.

Currently, VR technology can provide realistic interactions with virtual colleagues, which allows the employee to make mistakes without harming real relationships. A department leader can test out different communication strategies to deal with a difficult employee in a safe environment. By practicing these skills virtually, they will be prepared to handle these difficult conversations when they occur in real life.

As impressive as VR opportunities are today, the future for expanding VR’s reach into other training opportunities is even brighter.

The Evolution of VR to Mixed Reality

The next step in virtual reality’s evolution will be a mixed reality (MR) enhanced VR experience, which will combine VR and augmented reality (AR) technologies to expand the types of training that can take place. An MR setting will provide learners the chance to coexist and interact with physical and digital objects in real time, setting the stage for even more realistic training in a safe environment than ever before.

Though MR is not here yet, it is the next logical step in VR development. The advancement of passthrough camera technology will improve the quality and refresh rates of simulations and will more accurately depict the learner’s virtual environment around them. MR will eventually advance VR training to the point where organizations will create any possible scenario that an employee might encounter and provide them with the skills to handle any challenges that might come up.

Where We Are Going

As organizational training continues to evolve, it will be imperative to adopt learning technologies for your toolbox. They will expand the types of training your organization is able to do and how you do them. In a world where in-office interactions are becoming less and less common, effective training will necessitate the use of technologies than can provide the in-person experience from remote locations.

Whether it’s used to train hard skills or soft skills, VR can expand the way employees interact with the training materials, increasing engagement and information retention in the process. For organizations, it provides opportunities to measure training’s overall effectiveness using advanced metrics. The immediate feedback will allow organizations to make informed decisions about their training programs, which will keep training relevant to rapidly changing business conditions.

In short, the use of VR training will eventually become a vital part of your training programs as you look to train the workforce of the future. It will revolutionize the way employees learn how to do their jobs and will improve their performance because of its ability to be more specific and actionable than ever before.