By 2020, the virtual reality market will be worth an estimated $30 billion, and investment bank Piper Jaffray estimates that by 2025, 500 million virtual reality headsets will be sold. Companies like Facebook, Google, Samsung and even the New York Times have made bets on virtual reality hardware, software and content.
While most think of video games and movies when they think about VR, the technology is also poised to make a significant impact on workplaces across the globe.
Before diving into the potential impact of this new technology, let’s clarify the difference between virtual and augmented reality. Augmented reality overlays information on the real world (the hologram of Princess Leia is an example). Virtual reality creates a 100% digital world in which the viewer is fully immersed.
1. Employees Will Become More Empathetic
Virtual reality has the ability to help people empathize with others, and some organizations are already using the technology for exactly this purpose. Nonprofit organizations are using VR to encourage prospective donors or volunteers to get involved. Similarly, businesses can use virtual reality to help employees get closer to the customer by creating VR experiences that simulate the daily life of prospective buyers.
In order to get close to the customer, businesses currently have employees conduct live interviews, listen to recorded phone calls or take over customer support channels. In the future, organizations will simply ask employees to watch recorded VR experiences on a regular basis.
2. Working Remotely Grows In Popularity
The number of employed Americans who spent time working remotely increased 4 percent over the past 5 years. The same study found that nearly 45 percent of employed Americans worked remotely for some period of time.
Virtual reality will accelerate the remote-working trend by making it easier for employees to connect with one another digitally. Facebook is already working on virtual reality chatrooms. It is possible that Facebook, or another company, will open this technology up to the business community through Workplace by Facebook or a similar platform.
3. Some May Drop Out Of The Workforce
A recent study cited in the Economist posits that video games are responsible for a major decline in workforce participation. Specifically, a study found that a significant portion of young men who play video games had chosen to work less and play videogames more. As a result, this cohort tended to live at home longer and marry later in life.
Now imagine the impact virtual reality videogames could have on the same segment of the population. It is possible that VR videogames, which are being produced today, could cause even more young people to drop out of the workforce or to work less than they do today.
4. Customer Service Costs Will Decline
Cost to serve (CTS) is one of the most important metrics for any business. The less expensive it is to serve customers, the better the margins. Virtual reality could help to lower cost to serve by helping customers to troubleshoot issues themselves.
For example, virtual reality could make assembling furniture much easier for customer. Rather than needing to read the directions on a piece of paper, the customer can watch a short virtual reality clip that shows how the furniture should be assembled.
Alternatively, virtual reality could help to train employees, which would in turn help employees to serve customers faster and more efficiently. Rather than needing to attend an in-person class that shows technicians how to fix the latest products, technicians could simply watch a virtual reality video to learn best practices.
5. Products Will Be Developed Faster Thanks To Virtual Prototyping
Companies like Boeing and Raytheon are already using virtual reality to develop new products faster. As reported by CNN, military-hardware producer Raytheon uses a virtual reality product-simulation chamber called a CAVE to help engineers and designers interact with a digital prototype.
The same technology could be used by a number of other industries to make the prototyping process faster and more accurate. For example, most cars are designed via a digital drawing, which is then developed into a full-scale clay model. The model is refined, and then thousands of data points on the clay model are gathered to develop the final design.
Virtual reality could eliminate the need to work with clay models. Instead, designers could instantly view a life-size version of any design thanks to a VR headset.
6. Marketers Will Have New Advertising Options
The advertising industry is changing rapidly. Last year, more money was spent on digital ads than TV ads for the first time in history. Soon two-dimensional digital ads will give way to virtual reality advertisements and branded content. Companies like Speetiv are developing technologies that will allow marketers to develop virtual reality content that target audiences actually want to consume.
Content platforms like YouTube will also provide advertisers with new virtual reality ad options. In fact, YouTube is already on the VR bandwagon. Last year, the company announced that any YouTube video could be viewed in virtual reality through their iOS or Android app. Soon, advertisers will begin to develop VR videos to create novel experiences for prospective customers.
Virtual reality is already changing the way we consume media, from online videos to movies to videogames. But VR isn’t just about creating more immersive entertainment experiences. In fact, there are a number of ways in which VR is changing the workplace.
The platform promises to help employees empathize with and serve customers. It should also make it easier for engineers and designers to develop products faster. Virtual reality will impact how people work by making it easier to work remotely, and it may encourage some to participate less in the workplace, if current trends serve as any indication.