PIC Reports: Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

No, that’s not VR

What is virtual reality? What is augmented reality? Are they  the same thing? What are those weird head sets? And what does it have to do with HR?

Before we answer those questions and explain the implications for the workforce,  let’s define VR and AR.

Augmented Reality

In AR,  Artificial Intelligence (AI) is used to “superimpose information on the world we see.  One of the most recent examples of this technology is Google Glass. Using AI, Google Glass enhances the environment around you by giving you information.

If you’ve seen the movie Minority Report  you are already familiar with a much cooler looking interface. In this clip from the movie  we see an excellent example of the use of AR, Tom Cruise’s character is trying to solve a “pre-murder” (don’t ask) by using an AI system to help him look through data and determine where the murderer and victim are currently living:

Virtual Reality

VR is a computer generated environment that is so realistic that users feel they are in the virtual reality and not in their physical reality. This effect is created by blocking all external sensory input by wearing a VR headset.  The latest version of the Oculus Rift headset includes the added option of touch controllers which create the tactile feeling of touch.

Below is a view of the Oculus Rift headset and touch controls in action, this get-up will cost you about $800 USD

Photo courtesy Innovative Designs:

VR – AR & HR?

What, if anything, does this technology have to do with work? After all, you are NOT going to let your employees walk around in the office with VR headsets on. Right?

Maybe you think I am going to tell you to ban AR and VR from the workplace? Or write a policy to limit its use? You’d be wrong.  Banning technology from the office or raging against progressive innovations doesn’t work. Think about trying to stop email back in the 80’s, the internet in 90’s and 2000’s and lately, trying to ban social media. It just doesn’t work.  There will be others in the HR community who will eventually write about banning VR and AR in the name of compliance – not me, not now.

Instead, I’m going to share with how you can utilize these technologies at your offices. Some of the applications are not as much of a stretch as you would think. 

Photo screen shot from Chick-fil A’s latest commercial: Reality. The full (very funny) commercial can be found here: http://creativity-online.com/work/chickfila-reality/50929


Simulations are limited because you know that you are in a simulation.  You know by looking around that the environment is fake.  By taking employees out of their physical environment VR’s sensory deprivation properties can take employee training to the next level. Instead of a physical simulator that becomes outdated over time, you instead have a virtual environment that can be easily updated with program tweaks. Oil companies are using VR to train their oil rig workers and the technology has been shown to have a better learning retention rate.


How great would it be to give employees at all levels a true feel for what it is like to work at your offices? Or what if you could put a candidate into a real life simulation and see how they do in a realistic work scenario?

Many companies are already using VR to give employees a job preview. To decrease turnover among mine workers at the Australian company Barminco, they are using VR to show candidates what it is like to work in a mine prior to any offers being made. Until the introduction of VR they had no way, besides verbal description, to give candidates a realistic preview of working in a mine. 

In order to assess candidates, Lloyds Banking Group is launching a new interviewing process where candidates will be fully immersed in a virtual environment and challenged to solve problems they may face in the role they are interviewing for.  They will be able to touch and move objects, while interviewers asses their reactions and problem solving skills. 

Office Productivity

VR is a great tool for real-life training but how about on-the-job training? In that case VR, with its AI enhancements may be a better option.  General Motors is using Google Glass as a real-time training tool:

“On the factory floor, employees wear Google Glass during difficult projects like installing strip molding, allowing them to see the correct technique in the glass as they perform the task. “ – ChicagoInno 

Google Glass also allows employees on the factory floor to quickly communicate what they are seeing/experiencing back to the office; it helps drive collaboration in large factories.

Concluding Thoughts

There is one final area of this technology I haven’t mentioned and that is its potential use in driving employee engagement. I can see at least two circumstances where VR or AR could drive engagement:

Scenario 1: Engaging remote employees in a meeting. Anyone who has had to sit on a conference call while the rest of the attendees are in-person, knows it can be excruciatingly boring  and difficult to follow the conversation. Imagine a world where remote employees can “attend” the meeting in a virtual environment. They would see, hear and feel the room going far beyond the current limits of Webex.

Scenario 2: How about a VR break? When the stress of the day gets crazy, employees could take a few minutes, book the VR equipment and spend some time relaxing on the beach or walking the streets of sunny Spain. A quick VR mental break could be just what is needed to push through to the next breakthrough

Like any technology, VR and AR have the potential to be of enormous benefit to our employees and our teams.  What do you think? Would you try out a VR headset at your company?


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