How collaboration can benefit from VR presence

Connecting remote teams is a potential game-changer for VR in the workplace

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Virtual reality (VR) is stepping out of its consumer-focused beginnings and showing some real potential in commercial environments. While training has been an initial focus in the enterprise, collaboration is also emerging as an intriguing application for VR technology – especially given the current work-from-home environment.

We asked members of IDG’s Influencer community of IT professionals, industry analysts, and technology experts about the potential benefits of VR as a way to improve meetings and collaboration among geographically dispersed employees.

Being present, virtually

Remote meetings and collaborative work become more meaningful with VR solutions as opposed to traditional settings, says Colin McGuire (@realColinMac), entrepreneur, investor, and tech evangelist. “When it comes to comparing meetings held through videoconferencing to meetings held in VR, a significantly higher number of users feel more present through VR,” says McGuire. 

 “VR will allow people to have a more immersive experience in a project, as opposed to just discussing the data around the project,” says Adam Martin (@colttrickle), IT director at American Structurepoint Inc.

Some IT leaders believe that although VR holds promise as a collaboration tool, it’s not quite there yet. “VR has potential for meetings and collaboration but needs significant work in replicating real-world environments, people, and experiences,” says Dave Evans (@DaveTheFuturist), CIO and vice president of technology at The Computer History Museum. “As the technology improves and the headsets are as lightweight as glasses, the technology is more likely to be adopted in the enterprise.” 

Others see the immersive presence that VR offers as an immediate game-changer during this time of mandated work-from-home policies, as traditional videoconferencing solutions come under criticism as a poor proxy for in-person meetings. VR’s ability to deliver a sense of being in the same room with colleagues “reduces the anxiety and fatigue that comes with ‘being on camera’ — especially with remote work becoming the new norm for many organizations,” says Cedric Wells (@cedricfwells), former IT director and current tech optimist.

The coronavirus pandemic has, for many people, created feelings of isolation, which VR solutions can help overcome, says Phil Siarri (@philsiarri), founder of media property Nuadox. “As the remote workforce is increasing due to globalization and the need for social distancing, holographic experiences could humanize virtual meetings,” Siarri says. “Such solutions would allow colleagues and collaborators to see real faces and hands rather than an approximative avatar.”

Mike D. Kail (@mdkail), CTO at Everest, agrees: “Most, if not all of us, currently really miss in-person interaction. And while solutions such as Zoom and Teams have bridged the gap, they still don't deliver on that desired experience.”

COVID-19 has “changed the rules,” adds Tony Flath (@TmanSpeaks), enterprise account executive at Shaw Communications. “There will be a good appetite for solutions that allow employees to virtually work together and feel more connected.”

The business benefits of better engagement

How do these feelings of humanization, presence, and engagement translate into business benefits? The experts cite a host of advantages. For example, by promoting the sense of connection, VR-based gatherings can spur innovation “as employees get to express themselves in a creative and more fun way,” says Wells.

Plus, there are none of the restrictions and distractions found in a traditional office setting. “Forget open noisy space offices,” says Jola Burnett (@JolaBurnett), vice president of GfK. “VR offers greater location-independent collaboration, improved creativity, and a boost in employee engagement through immersive and potentially hyper-personalized experiences.”

Increased engagement not only can boost productivity and idea-sharing, it also leads to greater awareness of others.

“Think of it this way: VR can help improve the soft skills that some employees might not otherwise have, such as empathy,” says Peggy Smedley (@ConnectedWMag), editorial director of Connected World and president of Specialty Publishing Media. “Managers have to find ways to make sure they maintain that same sense of connectedness with staff. VR, augmented reality, and even mixed reality tools encourage training scenarios and engagement to educate teams and learn from contextual experiences.”

As an example, Enrico Molinari (@enricomolinari), an innovation manager and university professor, cites the University of Bergamo in Lombardy, Italy, which designed virtual classrooms for 25-30 students. Using VR in combination with other technologies like artificial intelligence, the university projects educational content onto a large screen, allowing students to engage and study safely, he says.

Experts cited other important benefits too, like environmental and cost savings.

“VR will be a new experience for employee meetings, leapfrogging digital transformation for business meetings with less carbon dioxide emission due to saved flights and travel,” says Dr. Marcell Vollmer (@mvollmer1), director at Boston Consulting Group.

McGuire agrees: “User feedback has been positive, with a growing list of companies looking to these VR alternatives for cost savings, COVID-19 health compliance, and increased productivity overall.”

Open to new approaches

The pandemic has challenged organizations to think differently about communication. Anna Frazzetto (@AnnaFrazzetto), chief digital technology officer and president of technology solutions for Harvey Nash/NashTech Global, says that the limits of traditional collaboration technologies are now apparent.

“We’ve learned that videoconferencing platforms give you that video presence with other team members, but haven’t yet allowed you to be immersed in each other’s presence and truly collaborate,” she says. “VR will get you into the middle of the discussion with your team, where you can even whiteboard together. You can now easily have scrum meetings with teams from all over the world and still feel you are all present. You can collectively work on presentations and give client pitches. The list goes on for how VR can help businesses better collaborate.”

Certainly, one of the lessons learned in this pandemic has been the need to come together, even when people are physically apart.

“In this new remote-work setting, VR will allow humans to connect again,” says Brian E. Thomas (@DivergentCIO), CIO of Coruzant Technologies.. “Augmenting and enhancing the remote meeting experience will be the next best thing to traditional in-person meetings. It’s truly inspiring.”

Learn more about how to boost meetings and collaboration today with virtual reality.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.