co-workers using VR goggles to view work

The Future is Now: How AR and VR is Changing the Workplace

For some, the terms “augmented reality” (AR) and “virtual reality” (VR) conjure visions of futuristic high-tech professions. But in reality (no pun intended), these technologies are already being widely used. And experts agree: they have numerous potential applications in the workplace. Read on to find out how AR and VR are changing the way we connect, collaborate, and train.

What’s the difference between AR and VR?

Simply put, AR adds to reality while VR replaces it. AR users still experience the real world, but with an added layer of information. VR users, on the other hand, are engaged in a completely virtual setting. For this reason, AR usually requires an application with camera access, while VR requires more immersive headsets.

Probably the most popular form of AR in recent memory is Pokémon GO, a gaming app that allows users to find and catch animated Pokémon in real world locations like parks or shopping malls. The game works by utilizing the player’s smartphone camera and location services. The player interacts with the game against the backdrop of reality, making for convincing and engaging gameplay.

Pokémon Go was by no means the first application to use AR, but its popularity did highlight AR’s practical uses and open the floodgates for many other apps like it.

From Gaming to Gamification

Smartphone games are one thing, but what about gaming in the workplace? As it happens, gaming has actually become a model for increased engagement at work. Employees are more motivated when presented with recognition, rewards, and healthy competition. These features are built into games.

Employers can use gamification tools to encourage the productive behavior they want by tapping into “psychological behaviors that govern the day-to-day decisions we make – providing a platform for competition, sharing your achievements and managing the progress of your work.” As games become more integrated with reality through AR, or more immersive through VR, the potential for engagement only increases.

A New Way to Connect

In fact, AR and VR have the potential to increase engagement on more than just an individual level. As more remote employees join the workforce and teams seek to collaborate, VR in particular allows for greater productivity through a heightened sense of presence and connection.

Nigel Davies, the founder of the digital workplace Claromentis, notes that “messaging is fine but it lacks the real connection you can get from speaking to someone in person. [VR] can give genuine presence to remote workers by giving them physical representation in meetings with their peers.”

Of course, increased presence isn’t the only benefit of VR or AR workspaces. With applications like Spatial, remote users can use any room or meeting space to collaborate. But they can also exchange 3-D models, videos, documents, and other content through VR headsets.

Hands-on, Risk-free

Immersive access to a wider array of content translates to more than just a better meeting experience. Tech companies and employers agree: AR and VR make for powerful training tools.

With its ability to superimpose material, AR is particularly suited for onboarding. Employers can use the technology to familiarize new hires with office setup, seating arrangements, roles, and client associations. As the employees explore the spaces around them, notes, information, and directions are displayed in real time to help them contextualize and absorb information.

That said, many employers are more interested in specialized skills training. AR and VR developers have been creating ground breaking applications to help trainees through complex or delicate processes. Using these technologies for training is not only more engaging; it allows trainers to assess individual learning while lowering operating costs and increasing productivity.

One example of this functionality in action is AccuVein, a service that uses AR to help healthcare workers visualize veins in their patients, allowing them to more precisely place IVs or administer injections.

Meanwhile, companies like thyssenkrupp use HoloLens, a mixed reality headset from Microsoft, to design, create and install products. Thyssenkrupp claims the technology makes their workflow up to four times faster.

But one of the biggest advantages of AR and VR is safety. No other technology combines the benefits of hands-on experience with the low risk of a virtual environment.

For instance, Osso VR simulates operating environments for surgeons, addressing gaps in their skills without the risks of real-time operation. A clinical validation study from UCLA found that Osso VR training improved “surgical performance by 230% compared with traditional training methods.”

The market is full of such training and certification resources. Companies like certifyme.net provide VR-based OSHA-compliant forklift certification online in about an hour.

In fact, some applications are focused solely on safety. PIXO VR creates immersive warehouse and distribution center scenarios that teach employees “how to identify real-world OSHA violations.” The program validates its material by testing the newly acquired safety skills after the training is completed.

Similarly, 3M created a VR-based worker health and safety training program that focuses on top causes of loss (which include falls and pushing, pulling, holding, carrying, or lowering injuries). The program highlights the importance of PPE and safe practices when working at tall heights.

Even the police and armed forces have utilized this technology, implementing immersive VR scenarios to train for active shooter situations.

But the best part about using AR and VR for workplace training? You don’t have to use them in isolation. They’re designed to be integrated into other technology structures, which makes them incredibly adaptable.

Adopting the Future

If you’re considering how AR or VR would fit into your operations, you’re not alone. A recent survey from Mojo Vision found that while about 75% of workers have never used immersive technology in the workplace, 78% of them are open to using it.

And around half think that AR or VR could specifically help them learn new skills.

While this is exciting, it’s important not to ignore practical considerations in favor of the novelty of emerging technology. In order to successfully integrate AR or VR, you’ll need employees that are on board with the change, resources to purchase necessary equipment, and well-maintained data.

You may have to consider updating legacy databases or systems. Depending on the complexity of your project, you may have to hire an outside developer as well. And of course, you will need adequate training for all staff.

One thing is certain: the benefits of immersive technology and its broad potential for application will only make AR and VR more prevalent in the workplace over time. Familiarizing yourself with what’s available and adapting your operations to changing technology could make you more competitive in the future.

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