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Few emerging product categories garner as much attention, enthusiasm and speculation as Virtual Reality (VR). Frequently associated with large goggle rigs featured in internet fail videos or speculation about the future metaverse, this technology is both emerging and already incredibly powerful.
What’s more, it might be the tool that helps tech companies respond and adapt to today’s uniquely disruptive moment for a sector accustomed to prolific, seemingly-unbridled growth and innovation.
Whether they are responding to new regulatory standards, adopting enhanced cybersecurity protocols or integrating novel technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), it’s clear that the status quo has been upended.
Digital tools central to training
At the same time, the tech sector is reeling from the Great Resignation, which widened the already chasm-like gap between supply and demand for tech workers. Even for fully staffed companies, 76% of IT decision-makers are dealing with “critical skills gaps on their teams.”
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To help support increasingly-distributed teams, augment employees’ skills and capabilities or implement new standards and technologies, tech companies are doubling down on employee training and digital tools have become central to those efforts. Unfortunately, these efforts often lack the lived experience and exposure that produce effective and reliable real-world results.
VR can bridge this gap by engaging the brain in the same way as lived experiences and accelerating outcomes accordingly. The neuroscience of VR provides compelling reasons to look to this technology to support teams while helping identify the best ways to harness VR to accelerate critical outcomes.
The neuroscience of VR
VR is a technological marvel that relies on strategically positioned lenses to distort images and make them appear three-dimensional. The technology is nearly half a century old, but its capabilities are more realized, recognizable and accessible in today’s cutting-edge environment.
The technology exposes users to life-like experiences that engage the brain in tangible ways. For starters, VR blends bodily control and functionality with a compelling ecological reality. Our brains constantly make predictions about our actions, concepts and emotions. VR follows the same principle, using advanced computing power to predict the sensory consequences of particular movements.
The impact on our brain is profound. According to research published in the National Library of Medicine, “VR can be considered an advanced imaginal system: An advanced form of imagery that is as effective as reality in inducing experiences and emotions.”
This singularity, known as immersion, is compelling and convincing. As the NEO Academy helpfully explains, “When we put on a VR headset, we’re effectively transported into a digital world. Our brains receive visual, auditory and other sensory input that trick us into thinking we’re somewhere else.”
While this unique experience is frequently associated with the still-futuristic metaverse or videogame use cases, the ramifications for businesses are formidable. Specifically, VR can help tech teams adapt to a changing environment and new challenges.
How VR can help break barriers
Learning new skills, navigating unfamiliar environments or tackling formidable challenges are incredibly difficult tasks. For tech companies looking to equip employees to meet onerous demands, the neuroscience of VR presents a compelling opportunity to leverage this increasingly capable technology to help teams break critical barriers.
Here are several ways that tech companies can leverage VR to help facilitate positive outcomes.
Provide sales teams with “real-world” training
According to an analysis published by Nature, “VR continues to accrue confirming evidence for the treatment of phobias owing to its ability to provide powerful sensory illusions within a highly controlled environment.”
Given this functionality, it’s not hard to imagine sales teams leveraging VR to help people overcome their fear of public speaking, failure or other experiential facets, allowing them to enhance or refine their efforts before engaging in customer-facing obligations.
Notably, VR can be used to teach soft skills, helping teams operate with greater empathy and more effective communication skills. This flexible software-based training solution can be adapted to accommodate a variety of use cases for companies, leveling up their training initiatives at a critical time.
Enable better connections across physical distances
A May 2022 Morning Consult survey found that nearly half of tech workers are fully remote and 85% at least embrace a hybrid model. This new work arrangement has many benefits, allowing people to avoid commutes in crowded cities and better restore work/life balance. It’s also leading to higher levels of disconnection among teams.
VR can help create these connections. Whether leaders leverage the technology to conduct virtual team-building activities or enable face-to-face encounters across distances, VR can be a conduit for fostering better connections amongst increasingly distributed teams.
Teach new skills and content
Real-world settings like classrooms, onboarding meetings, seminars or online trainings have physical limitations that limit learning potential. In contrast, VR is limitless, giving people access to once-impossible learning experiences, hands-on scenarios and other growth-oriented initiatives.
This isn’t just a hypothetical future. A 2022 study by the University of North Carolina discovered that medical students learning in VR settings outperformed their peers in information retention, performance tasks and test scores.
Additionally, a 2018 study using VR to teach adaptive flight training to Air Force pilots found that participants had a 230% performance task improvement compared to traditionally trained pilots.
As tech companies look to upskill existing workers or train new hires, VR can help enhance these efforts. Since a company’s people are its most valuable resource, outfitting them with skills needed to thrive can be a differentiating factor that allows them to thrive in the months and years ahead.
Using VR to enhance real-world outcomes
According to an expansive analysis of 25 different published articles on VR’s impact on health results, “VR compares favorably to existing treatments in anxiety disorders, eating and weight disorders and pain management that generalized in the real world.”
In other words, it’s possible to use VR to enhance tangible outcomes.
For tech companies, this means VR can play a practical role in their evolution and advancement. Whether helping customer service agents develop empathy or cultivating workplace culture in a hybrid work environment, the neuroscience of VR proves that it can be a valuable tool that helps tech companies break critical barriers.
Marshall Mosher is founder and CEO of Vestigo.
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