The Year of Changemakers: Our 3 Takeaways from the 2021 VR/AR Global Summit

What a year for virtual and augmented reality! Last week, the VR/AR Association held their capstone event, VR/AR Global Summit, and got us all excited about where the future is headed. And what made it special is that unlike events of the past, we were all discussing the future of the virtual workplace in the virtual world! It was no more a vision of the future; it had become a reality.

With over 250 speakers and hundreds of relevant sessions, reimagined ideas, and brilliant conversations among the industry’s sharpest minds captured our attention over the three incredible days. We had the opportunity to sit in on incredible sessions with industry experts and participate in insightful discussions with enterprise leaders. So, if you didn’t have a chance to attend, or just couldn’t get to everything, we’ve captured our biggest takeaways from the event. 

It may sound cliche, but the future is now and it’s an exciting place to be. 

VR/AR Global Summit Takeaway #1: Scaling VR/AR training programs

The question is no longer a consideration of its value. In 2021, it’s how do we maximize that value across the organization.

Over the past few years, virtual and augmented reality have become more widely adopted across the enterprise training landscape. Companies like UPS, Westrock, Shell, Lincoln Electric, and Walmart, who were early adopters of the technology, have led the charge in enterprise VR training implementations.  

Various factors played a role in helping these pioneering organizations double down on technology. Be it the shift to remote working environments, generational improvements in the VR/AR hardware ecosystem, or most importantly, the fact that the technology has continued to demonstrate its impact on ROI. Whether it’s the ability to reduce time spent training, decrease workplace injuries, increase retention rates, and enhance user engagement, as we move through 2021, enterprise organizations are looking to scale their investment in VR and AR across business units.

On day 2’s Rapid Fire Discussion Panel, Cynthia Maller, Head of CGI at Walmart shared the importance of scaling your investment up your executive chain to maximize the impact of your training on your employees. Focus on the tangible value-added and how it relates to business goals and bottom lines to generate buy-in.

Think of it like this – the less time employees spend off the floor training, the more productivity can be maintained. The more we can keep employees safe on the job, the less liability we face. The more we help staff retain processes, the less time we spend correcting potentially expensive mistakes. The more you show that you’re invested in the development of your employees, the better your chance of retaining them.

Another area to consider as you take on the challenge of scaling up is to make sure you look at what parts of your process are the most resource-intensive, what’s costing you the most time, people, and money, and evaluate whether there are tools that can help you simplify the process.

VR/AR Global Summit Takeaway #2: Soft skills training in VR

While procedural, simulation and safety training has been the predominant use cases for VR and AR training thus far, soft skills training is quickly becoming the latest trend to take off.

The emergence of conversational artificial intelligence (AI) tools has been one of the most defining developments for learning teams across enterprise organizations. Learning teams are now exploring how digital avatars can double up as guides as well as assessment tools to improve the preparedness of employees in tricky, crisis scenarios at work. 

Another brilliant application of soft skill training was realized in the emergence of an inclusive work environment. The importance of creating empathy-driven cultures was echoed throughout the event. Enterprise organizations are recognizing that soft skills are difficult to train and can be uncomfortable to learn. VR is an opportunity to provide a safe space where learners can interact with 3D avatars and practice having those tough conversations and challenging interactions.

Providing her expertise as part of an esteemed panel, Vivian Chan, Global Head of Digital Sales of Nextech AR, shared her predictions that empathy training and soft skill development will become an integral part of immersive training programs, and other futurists, including experts across industries like retail and manufacturing shared that sentiment. 

VR/AR Global Summit Takeaway #3: Managing a remote workforce

In the past year, we have collectively faced unprecedented challenges. Entire workforces shifted to remote environments in a matter of days and training programs had to be completely reimagined due to public health restrictions that limited our in-person interactions. For many, this forced the acceleration of the digital transformation and had us looking to technology to keep our companies running and our employees connected. Out-of-the-box ideas had to be thought of and implemented quickly.

Training leaders shared the most exhilarating stories on how their teams had to run against time to meet the demands of their management as well as those of the employees. Transformational ideas of training which didn’t have many backers in the past suddenly found support from all corners. Learning teams worked overnight with business practice heads, IT departments and external partners to make these ideas into a reality, virtual reality!

During the pandemic, executive teams came on the same page with training teams on why investments must be made in more immersive, interactive learning tools to prepare, upskill, and reskill the workforce of the future. The results were all to be seen. Productivity increased, employee engagement went through the roof, and retention of talent became a lesser problem. The success meant so much that organizations are now exploring options of a hybrid workplace to let their employees decide the pace of their transition back to the office. 

Before one could realize all of us were staring at the end of what was another brilliant summit put together by the VR/AR Association. Ideas did not sound like prototypes anymore, what was celebrated was the lived experience of the last 12 months with a promise to return with more such stories of success and challenges that will redefine our tomorrow. Until then, happy learning!

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Sanu Nair

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