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How to Make AR, VR, and MR a Part of Your Digital Workplace

AR, VR, and MR have evolved greatly from sci-fi gadgets, gamer gimmicks, and entertainment devices, even surviving the Pokémon GO craze to be finally recognized as technologies bound to revolutionize the workplace. Currently, Ford, Boeing, Airbus, Coca Cola, Siemens, and hundreds of global companies outside the consumer entertainment industry are busy testing and implementing AR and VR gear in every field of their operational processes, from manufacturing to customer engagement.

Other large and mid-sized enterprises are expected to follow suit in the next five yearsAccording to the IDC report, the five-year CAGR for AR and VR technologies will reach 78.3% by 2023. The largest investment share (80% by 2022) will come from the commercial sector companies, which are expected to allocate a lesser but still significant portion of funds to digital workplace transformation.

To meet the burgeoning need for AR, VR and MR technologies an impressive number of advanced hardware has hit the market. Oculus Quest, Samsung Odyssey+ and HTC Vive VR headsets, together with Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens AR smart glasses, are now acknowledged as top immersive technology devices.

The selection of AR, VR and MR software is not as robust and mostly geared toward game development. However, certain business solutions providers enhance their tools with these cutting-edge technologies. For instance, SharePoint Spaces by Microsoft is a mixed reality tool, recently introduced into the Office 365 package. As Microsoft SharePoint consultants suggest, SharePoint Spaces can be one of such latest mixed reality additions to the digital workplace toolkit, more of which later.

So, how exactly will AR, VR and MR technologies reinvent the working process? And, most importantly, what is in there for your business? This article will explore the five most promising areas for adopting AR, VR and MR at your enterprise.

5 Workplace Areas Where You Can Apply AR, VR and MR 

Product Design 

AR/VR/MR can level up such an essential and effort-consuming process as product prototyping. Equipped with a VR headset and controllers, a designer can model a 3D render of a vehicle, craft, or machinery and immediately test the prototype in a simulated environment. Since the designer is in complete control of the virtual space, they can magnify the model to tinker with its tiniest parts and complex structures, as well as play with a variety of materials, textures, colors, and sizes.

In this case, virtual reality allows skipping the physical modelling stage, substantially reducing development time and costs. As for product developers, they get an unlimited possibility to create, experiment, analyze and learn from mistakes — all with the minimal resources necessary.

Due to its benefits, the VR-powered design process has been widely adopted by BMW and Ford, two leading automotive manufacturers. Although each one uses different hardware and software — BMW applied HTC Vive, while Ford employed Gravity Sketch — they achieved a similarly great productivity enhancement. Another prominent example is NASA, which uses mixed-reality Microsoft HoloLens smart glasses to build the new-generation spacecraft Orion.

Workplace Safety Provision

There is a large number of industries associated with potential life and health hazards: mining, oil rigging, construction, utility services, equipment manufacturing, high-altitude or underground work, and so on. AR offers to enhance workplace safety in such enterprises, minimize the probability of physical harm to technicians, and prevent fatal human errors. Neat augmented-reality glasses can assess the environment, calculate potential risks, identify dangerous scenarios, and alert an operator if there are any. Also, AR eyewear can overlay critical operational or safety information, so that technicians have access to it without diverting attention from the working process.

The case of the Boeing aircraft manufacturing company is a good example of how AR wearables can become a game-changer. Plane wire assembly used to be a challenge of great complexity, and workers needed to consult their laptops incessantly to ensure they do everything right. Organized in this way, the process was exhausting and potentially hazardous, until Google Glass was introduced. Now, technicians have all the necessary information before their eyes and can concentrate on their task. This measure reduced the production time by 25% and brought the error rate down to nearly zero.    

Professional Learning

On-the-job training is another area where AR, VR and MR lend themselves well. VR and MR allow creating an immersive learning environment with realistic 3D simulations, where employees can practice hands-on skills and play out real-life scenarios. Such educational solutions eliminate the need for expensive training equipment and risks of putting trainees’ health or even lives in danger. What is more, virtual reality allows simulating a plethora of emergencies that are impossible to recreate in the physical world: fire, hazard material leakage, equipment malfunction or breakdown, etc.

But do not fall under the impression that this technology is reserved only for such industries as manufacturing, transportation, and healthcare. AR and VR are also viable in training soft skills and practicing efficient behavioral patterns for communication-heavy roles like salespeople, administrators, caregivers, social service managers, and lawyers.

Walmart decided to reap double benefits of this cutting-edge learning technology and implemented a VR staff training program to develop hard and soft skills at the same time. The company created more than 45 virtual-reality training modules and sent over 17,000 Oculus Go headsets to their supermarkets across the country. In a high-precision simulated environment, employees train to perform a variety of hands-on tasks, deal with day-to-day issues (spills, trash, misplaced items) and emergencies (robbery or shooting), and master the skill of working with difficult customers.

Team Collaboration

Smooth, unhindered collaboration is the cornerstone of business efficiency, and AR/VR/MR are the technologies to amplify your teams’ joint efforts. Augmented reality is steadily changing the way data, graphs, and prototypes are presented, making the most complex concepts and elusive trends vivid and compelling through 3D visualization. Video conferencing can give way to virtual chat rooms, where team members, represented by full-bodied avatars, can discuss, participate and brainstorm even if separated by thousands of miles. Beyond that, teams can assemble in a virtual workspace to work together on a model or test it out in a simulated environment.

The already mentioned SharePoint Spaces is a great example of mixed reality made available for day-to-day teamwork. The tool allows creating a three-dimensional instance, or Space, choose a workplace template (a production site, showroom, or exterior area) and share it team-wide. Inside a simple point-and-click interface, Space members can create, manipulate and simultaneously work on any type of content, both 2D and 3D. SharePoint Spaces can also be integrated with other Office 365 tools such as Calendar, Yammer, Bookings, and Microsoft Teams to support immersive teamwork.

HR Management

Human resources is not the department you expect to be wired with advanced technology, but it’s nothing but a stereotype. As the share of high-skilled workforce is depleting, enterprises around the world find themselves competing for top-talent employees. AR- and VR-powered hiring and onboarding can become the secret sauce that attracts top-of-the-line staff.

For example, virtual reality used during job interviews can make routine company presentations engaging and memorable. Toyota High System was among the first to introduce a VR Office Tour video, demonstrated with an HTC Vive headset at college career fairs. In 15 minutes, candidates got an immersive overview of the corporate campus — an experience that had a favorable and long-lasting effect on applicants.

Onboarding is another experience you can leverage with AR and VR technologies. Instead of leaving a newcomer stressed and struggling to memorize their colleagues’ names, office floor layout, and the scope of their responsibilities, you can invite them to a virtual employee orientation tour that recreates their typical workday. Being inside a safe simulated environment can ease a new hire’s initial anxiety and allow them to better acquaint with their team and job role. In the long run, such a smooth onboarding experience can boost the employee retention rate.

You’ve Made the Decision — What’s Next?

The corporations cited as case studies above were among the first to take up the digital transformation challenge and emerge victoriously. Their examples invigorate and their solutions are to be examined and drawn inspiration from. Still, AR, VR and MR technologies have not yet become a common practice in the digital workplace, so the question “How do I make it work for my enterprise?” stands.

Due to the absence of enterprise-oriented out-of-the-box frameworks, tools (with rare exceptions like SharePoint Spaces) and established industry practices, the wisest option would be to start your AR/VR/MR project with expert consultation. When your business needs are identified and the course of action is mapped out, you will get a clear vision of how to bring it to life, whether by hiring in-house developers, outsource to a dedicated team, or do it your way. After all, a good beginning is half the battle.

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