There was a time when it looked like virtual reality (VR) would never be able to shake its clunky image. From the release of Nintendo’s Virtual Boy in 1994 to Google’s low-price headset, Google Cardboard, it was hard to hear about a new iteration of VR without the additional point of ‘unfulfilled expectations’. Despite numerous rollouts from various tech giants promising that the next release would ‘finally’ nail VR, the technology continued to be viewed as not much more than a gimmicky gaming accessory. However, perhaps we had the wrong idea about VR all along. Instead of thinking about VR headsets as personal accessories, maybe it’s time we start looking at them as a key workplace tool?

VR’s turning point

A major catalyst for this change stems from Apple’s long-awaited entry into the VR market in 2024 with the release of the Apple Vision Pro. By prioritising user experience and allowing adjustable immersion levels, Apple addressed long-standing critiques around comfort and whether VR had any practical business use. This ability to tailor the virtual experience is a key reason for VR’s increasing use in businesses.

Transforming industries

In healthcare, VR can be used to simulate high-stakes scenarios, risk-free – allowing practitioners to build vital skills through realistic, repetitive training without jeopardising patient safety. At Great Ormond Street Hospital, the technology is being used to help train surgeons by allowing them to interact with 3D anatomical models of body parts. This is allowing surgeons to map out procedures in advance, and even direct surgeries that are taking place in different parts of the world altogether.

As digital meetings are now commonplace, many companies are looking to VR to create digital workspaces that foster an office environment for widely dispersed workers. Our client Cornerstone recently hosted a meeting in the Metaverse, enabling colleagues worldwide to meet, chat and visit their expo hall – and had a few fun extras with a dance club and spa retreat!

Immersive VR is also transforming teacher training by providing innovative tools to enhance curriculum delivery. At universities like Sunderland, education programmes are equipping trainee teachers with headsets that simulate realistic classroom environments. This allows student teachers to practise managing a virtual class and experiment with multisensory teaching methods before ever stepping foot in a real classroom.

VR finds its place in the world of work

While there are still barriers to widespread adoption – such as price and comfort – it’s clear VR has found a place in the world of work. Perhaps it’s time to reframe our expectations to stop thinking about VR as a gimmicky personal accessory, but rather as a pragmatic workplace tool. Just as with any new technology, the real breakthrough usually happens when the hype subsides, and pragmatic use cases emerge. It took a while for VR to ‘grow up’, but it finally feels like we’ve stopped imagining it as a futuristic novelty and instead embracing it as a tool for the present.

Imagine entering your workplace in a 3D world and heading into a meeting room where you greet your virtual colleagues. It feels like you are together, but in fact, you are at home wearing a VR headset as indeed they are, and perhaps on the other side of the world. We might not be too far off from this scenario.

The increased adoption of VR and augmented reality (AR) are evolving both work and play. In the short space of a few months, AR and VR have become inherently tied to the world of communications. When Facebook underwent a major rebrand and unveiled themselves as Meta last October, widening its reach outside of social media into the virtual reality space, the world took notice. And when Big Tech sets a trend, people follow. Virtual reality has even been touted as the next new way to experience hands-on training and development.

Modern workers are no strangers to communicating remotely. But the substantial impact of these technologies on the comms world will be their power to help us collaborate in ways that were unheard of before, bringing people together who might not otherwise meet, enabling authentic human interactions. From allowing creativity to flourish, to enabling communication (in a virtual space) with people across the globe. Here are my top three ways that VR could enhance your comms efforts:

1. Bolstering Creativity

Your space plays a key role in how creative you are. And for those of us in the comms industry, creativity is our driving force. If you do not feel inspired and comfortable in your surroundings, you will not perform at your best. Virtual spaces have the power to be much more effective than physical spaces in this way – simulating reality and allowing us to work in a virtual world where possibilities are endless.

VR meetings are also a powerful tool. Unlike Zoom calls, VR meetings enable you to see the physical presence of colleagues, making it much more like an in-person meeting. Understanding body language and the dynamics in the room are a valuable tool for gauging the feelings of your colleagues and making decisions accordingly. Plus, we can break free of the traditional office setting – who wouldn’t like to conduct meetings or draft an article, from the beach, or an inspiring historical landmark if that were possible one day?

2. Enabling human connections

As comms professionals, it is crucial to meet our audience where they are. Emotional connections are important, particularly for brands that are seeking to bolster authenticity in their interactions with potential customers. In fact, this is the heart of our business. People need to feel seen and heard in order to engage – and VR has the immense power to help with this, by leveraging technology that enables human connections regardless of location. Authenticity is also important when communicating with customers and clients – it’s crucial that we don’t underestimate the importance of a virtual hug during a time when many have been distanced.

3. Taking collaboration to new heights

How virtual reality could influence our daily lives has been a hot topic , described as the future of work, and for good reason. At the moment, the technology almost seems too good to be true – because it has the power to create a new level of seamless collaboration that was unheard of a few years ago. Brainstorming sessions are more powerful in person, and when physical location is no longer a factor, it is limitless what could be achieved.

VR has the power to make our day-to-day business easier, more productive, and more authentic – which is crucial for organisations to flourish. And while this technology is still developing, it could change everything that we know about human interaction and collaboration in the space of a few short years.

Is it time to shape your reputation?

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