The onboarding process is the most critical time period of an employee journey. Improving this process enhances the productivity of a company, its brand reputation, and, through these, its business results. Many companies have attempted to enrich the onboarding experience of new employees through videos, games, or personal interactions. Realizing that competitors are upscaling their onboarding has led to noticeable movement and innovation in this realm. Using immersive and interactive technologies such as virtual reality (VR) for onboarding has recently gained major popularity, which caused an increasing number of companies (such as Deloitte, General Electric, and Lufthansa) to look into this new format of onboarding in more depth.
What could onboarding through VR look like and why does it make sense?
Tackling the questions all employees ask about company culture—how they can relate to the bigger objectives of the company, what their first project in the company will be, and whether can they adapt quickly—is a key task for any HR professional onboarding new employees. Here one of the greatest advantages of VR comes into play: Real experiences can be simulated, and one can be exposed to all kinds of environments, challenging situations, and different perspectives as a means of preparation.
This almost certainly leads to calmed nerves, more confidence, and a motivating start, because something new feels already a bit familiar after being experienced through VR. Companies such as SAP have tested this, and reported how pleasantly surprised their new employees were after receiving VR goggles with videos on them that explained what they can expect and familiarized them with the new surroundings.
This could be taken a step further: Breaking down the organization‘s key strategic objectives for the coming years and bringing the future to life today through VR can make the vision a tangible reality employees can relate to and feel inspired by. VR allows companies to let their creative juices flow and truly think outside the box on how they can inspire the best talent to join their team. Making them feel valued, appreciated, and sought-after right from the beginning is often key for higher employee loyalty and greater engagement during working hours; both components are decisive for business success.
Another major advantage of bringing VR into the onboarding process is the factor of focus and immersion. While the fight for someone's attention has never before been more challenging, VR concentrates one’s focus and allows a deep dive into a different world without requiring a big transition period. And the best part? After gaining the employee’s full attention, the only limiting factor about the experience is one's own imagination. VR is not only immersive, but also interactive, fun, and at times thrilling.
To put it in a nutshell: The effectiveness of onboarding through VR is the increased engagement of employees right from the beginning—the opportunity to be very personal, and have the CEO greet new employees, for example, and the option to share strategic goals and messages and make them tangible today by explaining the vision and mission of the company in an entertaining and captivating way.
Apart from onboarding, training on personal skills and diversity experiences are also increasingly delivered with the help of VR. The reasons for this vary. Harvard professor Christopher Dede claimed, for example, that the experience of learning something new with the help of VR is more motivating, engaging, and fun for the user because of its focused, immersive, and interactive nature. People love to learn through implementing and testing new insights straight away, which ensures higher and longer retention rates and also a higher probability of wanting to learn more and longer. Adding this pull factor to corporate learning, instead of pushing the user to learn, ensures major differences in the output and the long-term results.
On top of that, users can learn on their own terms—a crucial aspect for learning success, as indicated by adult learning expert Malcolm Knowles and implemented by companies such as the World Bank, Adidas, and Walmart. VR grants the option to learn whenever and wherever one chooses and still have full concentration, as the immersive technology cuts out distractions and transports the user to the world of learning. Compared to traditional e-learning, the distraction potential is reduced immensely.
This state of full focus while learning a new skill or insight has been labeled deep work by computer scientist and Georgetown University professor Cal Newport, and is undoubtedly a needle mover and key differentiator between highly productive, skilled people and those who are always busy without making much progress. Since we live in a world where distractions are the norm, shallow work (the opposite of deep, focused work) is omnipresent, and the rate of innovation is higher than ever before, offering an easy way to be fully engaged and attentive throughout a learning phase is not only a gift, but a much better way to upskill one’s employees in the grand scheme.
VR also allows the user to walk in someone else’s shoes, which is why it is such a perfect match for diversity and empathy training. It changes one’s perspectives subtly, by letting the user see through the eyes of someone else and even take on the avatar of another person. What better way could there be to deal with diversity challenges in a scalable fashion?
There are numerous other use cases and arguments for implementing VR into training. However, as it is still a fairly new technology for many people, it is important to start somewhere, let employees and users get acquainted to it, and receive positive resonance—then word of mouth will take care of the rest. We all love surprises and the aspect of something new; VR is one chance for companies to surprise, stand out, and inspire.