Over the past several weeks, we’ve seen digital transformation accelerate as organizations everywhere sprinted to put tools in place so employees could work from home (WFH) and halt the spread of coronavirus. Many companies turned to video chat platforms as a stand-in for face-to-face meetings and to help workers connect in real time. Yet it was soon apparent that challenges like a lack of online collaboration tools, sourcing secure laptops and unfamiliarity with WFH norms had caught many businesses unprepared for the shift in working style.
These issues will soon be sorted out, and business will eventually find a new normal—but it’s likely the pandemic will forever change the way meetings and events are held. Travel restrictions could remain in place for months; conferences could move entirely online; and companies will likely keep their belts tightened until market demand returns. It’s also likely that many companies and workers will decide the WFH lifestyle suits them, thus bringing about a permanent shift in workforce dynamics.
As business leaders absorb these and other possible scenarios, many are asking: What’s the next step? How can we further enhance communication and collaboration today? And how can we better prepare for the possibility of more disruptions tomorrow?
Fortunately, enhanced ways of convening while social distancing are already well within reach. Digital reality—a broad category of technology that includes augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), 360 video and immersive capabilities—is an excellent way for companies to rethink how their employees can work remotely with colleagues, partners and customers. Here’s one view of the art of the possible and how it can bring value to business.
A new digital reality
Imagine putting on an AR or VR headset and being transported to a conference room where colleagues are gathering to review new packaging designs. You pick up an object, examine it from different angles, then test different labels on its surface. You might talk face-to-face with the designer about last-minute changes to materials to reduce weight—something that would require a revamp of the packaging design and more collaboration.
Another type of digital reality—360 video—allows users to look in every direction so groups can virtually co-locate and collaborate in real-world environments. This kind of virtual reality offers employees a more immersive remote meeting experience than the standard webcam setup. Engineers, architects and design professionals, for example, can sit at virtual conference tables and brainstorm a mixed-used project on a virtual whiteboard.
We know that elevating the human experience in business has a direct effect on the bottom line; 360 video does, in fact, elevate the human experience by simulating human contact, thus building and maintaining tighter emotional connections between colleagues and generally helping people feel more engaged without being physically present.
Value with a human touch
Investments in digital reality tools like 360 video can be significant, but so is the value they can deliver. For example:
- Real-time interaction and collaboration. When humans work together in person, it’s easier to respond to physical and emotional cues, and that can lead to greater efficiency and creativity as well as deeper human connections. Creatives know the potential of an all-day brainstorming session to uncover the best ideas. But how do you gauge your client’s initial response to a new marketing concept? In person, you can read physical cues like facial expressions and eye movement. These emotional signs are difficult if not impossible to detect during an audio conference call. Through virtual conferencing you have a more nuanced, accurate sense what other participants are thinking and feeling, and can react with greater awareness and effectiveness.
- Engagement and retention. Elevated human experiences and visualization lead to higher engagement, increased retention rate and improved understanding. New employees can practice complex procedures online while visual cues from others can help them to hone their skills—like the work that’s being done at an industrial company to train truck drivers to transfer gas safely and prepare for the demands of the job. In a virtual environment, new drivers practice the proper technique through repetition, building safe habits before making their first delivery. The skills gain helps them react to unexpected situations more confidently—and builds expertise in a much shorter time frame that ever before possible.
- Reimagining experiences. For now, business travel is on hold, with 92 percent of domestic business travel canceled or suspended. Yet there’s still a need for meetings and events. After all, personal interaction will always be essential to building relationships, exchanging information and creating meaningful connections. Adopting 360 video and other forms of digital reality could help organizations reinvent these canceled events and meetings, while offering an opportunity to elevate the human experience and connect with larger audiences. Trade show attendees could virtually walk through exhibits and experience demonstrations while sensing the excitement building around them. At last year’s U.S. Open in Pebble Beach, the USGA offered spectators a chance to lean into the action. An AR app helped golf fans experience 3D views of selected holes, near real-time scores and opportunities to follow favorite players. With digital reality, it’s possible for the show—and the meetings and events—to go on.
If there’s one key takeaway from COVID-19, it’s that social distancing doesn’t bring business or the need for human connection and communication to a halt. Digital reality tools—like 360 video—could be the next best thing to being there.