Imagine a world in which new hires can practice running through chaotic Black Friday scenarios without interacting with actual customers and potentially harming your brand. Or imagine a world where a new employee in your warehouse can practice operating a forklift without the risk of damaging property or causing injury.
Now stop imagining, because both of these hypothetical situations are possible today, thanks to virtual reality (VR) employee training.
Once confined to bulky headsets in the back of arcades, VR has made technological leaps and bounds in the past decade to become a viable tool for hands-on employee training in a risk-free environment. Walmart, Volkswagen, and even NASA have already jumped on the VR training bandwagon.
But you’re not Walmart, Volkswagen, or NASA. You’re a small or midsize business (SMB) with a limited training budget. Does it really make sense to invest in virtual reality employee training right now?
It’s worth serious consideration: According to our own research, by 2021 we expect 1 in every 3 SMBs in the U.S. to be piloting VR employee training programs and seeing their new hires reach full productivity 50% faster as a result.
To help with your decision, we’ll look at the reasons why you should adopt VR employee training today, and the reasons why you might want to wait. We’ll also detail the steps you should take before you adopt.
5 reasons why you should adopt VR employee training today
If you still associate virtual reality only with video games and amusement parks, it’s time to recalibrate your expectations. In recent years, organizations have successfully leveraged VR for everything from touring real estate to recreating crime scenes and even shopping in a virtual mall.
Amazon set up VR mall kiosks around the world for Prime Day 2018 (Source)
VR is also being used to enhance employee training to give workers immersive “learning by doing” opportunities they can’t find in a classroom or online course. It’s a revolution in an area that’s historically been static and unengaging for workers.
VR employee training can benefit your SMB in a number of ways:
VR employee training can improve knowledge retention
People can hardly remember what they had for breakfast this morning, let alone what they learned in training six months ago. With traditional methods, workers can forget up to 50% of what they learned within an hour of finishing training.
VR training has been proved to help workers better remember what they’ve learned.
In one study, participants were either shown a 2D video or given a full VR experience and were asked to recall what they saw two days later—the VR group performed twice as well.
One CEO found that her staff were able to remember more after a year using VR than they could after a week without it.
VR employee training can help workers learn skills more quickly
New hires can take anywhere from six months to two years to become fully productive employees, depending on the complexity of their role and the organization. Every day your workers aren’t at their full potential is a day that they’re not providing their full return on your investment.
By providing workers experiential learning opportunities in an environment with zero distractions (as opposed to a classroom or online course), VR training is proven to help workers pick up skills more quickly.
When KFC implemented a new hire VR exercise, workers were able to learn how to make fried chicken in just ten minutes, as opposed to the 25 minutes it takes in real life.
VR employee training can reduce workplace accidents
According to research from the Institute for Work & Health, workers in their first month on the job are more than three times as likely to suffer an injury than those who have been employed for more than a year.
Experts agree that hands-on training is vital to getting new hires up to speed, but putting them in real-life work situations carries the risk that they’ll make a costly mistake.
Companies can use VR training to simulate the real-life work situation instead, without putting workers or the business at risk. Early research has shown that VR can effectively increase workplace safety.
VR employee training can save you money
It makes sense that piloting an airplane in VR would cost considerably less than flying the actual thing. But you may be surprised to learn that VR training simulations can save you money compared to traditional eLearning courses.
Research by Brandon Hall Group found that when you take into account factors such as the drop in insurance and injury-related costs, the fewer production delays, and the declining price tag associated with the equipment, VR can save businesses more than $2,000 per training program.
VR employee training can attract job seekers and boost workplace retention efforts
At a time when workers are literally quitting their jobs because they’re not getting enough training and don’t have access to the latest tech, SMBs can score major points with job seekers by investing in cutting-edge training experiences such as VR.
Leveraging VR training in ongoing development efforts throughout a worker’s tenure can help you engage and retain them. Seventy percent of employees say training and development opportunities impact their decision to stay with a company.
3 reasons why you might want to wait to adopt VR employee training
According to Gartner’s “Hype Cycle for Display and Vision,” a methodology that predicts how expectations for a technology or application will evolve over time, virtual reality is currently in the “Slope of Enlightenment” (full research available to Gartner clients).
What that means is that more and more organizations are piloting VR applications, and the benefits of VR to employee training have become more widely understood, but we’re still a good two to five years away from VR training reaching mainstream adoption.
These are exciting times, but the truth is there are a still a couple of reasons why SMBs might want to wait before investing in VR training for their organization:
VR employee training isn’t scalable
While it is technically possible to put together a VR setup with nothing but a smartphone and a $15 cardboard box, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to deliver an effective VR training program through these means. Smartphones just don’t have the computing power to offer more than very basic experiences, and there’s no way to interact with the computer-generated world without some type of controller.
Which means you’ll need to shell out for a more robust VR headset, which can range from $200 to $2,000 or more. Add in the five-figure cost if you need to create VR simulations from scratch and the physical space you need for VR, and expenses can quickly get out of hand.
As we mentioned before, VR training can end up saving you money over time, but the significant upfront cost may scare some SMBs away.
VR motion sickness is still an issue
Most people can go through a full VR experience with no problems. However, 25 to 40% of folks will suffer from VR motion sickness, a condition caused by a disconnect between external stimuli (i.e., what you see and hear in VR) and your internal sensory system. It can cause dizziness, nausea, and vomiting—which doesn’t make for the most fun training experience.
VR developers have proposed a number of solutions to this problem, from higher frame rates, to different control schemes and more sit-down VR experiences. Nothing has made VR motion sickness go away completely though. Until this issue is solved, a significant chunk of your workforce may be physically unable to go through VR employee training.
VR isn’t profitable yet
Though there’s a lot of excitement around VR right now in niche areas such as employee training, the fact remains that virtual reality hasn’t caught on with mainstream audiences. Consumer purchases of VR headsets have fallen throughout 2018, which has led companies such as Facebook (which purchased Oculus in 2014) to admit that VR likely won’t be profitable for some time.
That’s a bigger worry for investors, admittedly. But if VR fails to drum up interest and pull in more revenue from bigger sources, VR headset producers could go out of business, leaving VR employee training vendors and their customers high and dry.
Here’s what you should do before you adopt VR employee training
Our prediction that one in every three SMBs in the U.S. will be leveraging VR for employee training by 2021 may actually be on the conservative side.
According to a 2018 Capterra survey on Top Technology Trends, as many as 46% of U.S. SMBs could be leveraging VR in the next one to two years when you include the 18%, like you, that are evaluating the technology today:
When you consider the possibilities that VR can bring to employee training, it’s easy to see why so many are eager to adopt.
But be careful. The fastest way to sink the promise of any new technology investment is to rush into it without properly preparing your organization. If you’re interested in taking the next step with virtual reality employee training, here’s what you should do now to prepare:
- Identify existing training programs that could benefit from VR. I highly doubt VR would make me a better writer. Similarly, there are roles and training areas in your organization that simply won’t benefit much from this tech. Identify two to three priority areas—ideally ones that are very tactile, but hard to master—to test your VR pilot.
- Have specific goals in mind for VR employee training. Whether it’s proficiency, productivity, or revenue, have a primary goal in mind that you can measure to determine the success or failure of your VR training program.
- Remember that VR is a complement to employee training, not a substitute. We’ve been kind of dogging traditional training methods in this article, but the truth is there are facets of classroom training and eLearning that can’t be replicated in VR (e.g., instructor feedback, being able to do training at home). Don’t neglect these areas and the technology that supports them.
Information on Capterra’s Top Technology Trends for SMBs survey:
Capterra conducted this survey in June and July 2018 among 715 U.S.-based SMBs with more than one employee and annual revenue of less than $100 million. The survey excluded nonprofit organizations. The qualified respondents are decision-makers or have significant influence on the decisions related to purchasing technologies for their organization.