With the COVID-19 pandemic decelerating the world economy and restricting professionals to the confines of their homes, world-wide businesses are disrupted. Though we agree that in-person interactions generate substantial business, it would be correct to say that a similar future crisis might stifle the deals pipeline of companies and significantly hamper high-impact communications. Against this backdrop, it does some justice to consider the traditional way in which humans interact to conduct business and the available alternatives to foster this in the present.
The regular alternatives to face-to-face meetings are emails, calls messengers, video chats, and perhaps even sharing a presentation via any of these methods. However, as any seasoned manager would agree, all these interactions lack human participation and put a significant restriction on details, speed, clarity, etc. in the longer run. A Harvard Business Review report estimates that a face-to-face meeting is 34 times more likely to generate a positive response than an email.
So, what can we do if we can’t meet in person? We simulate reality in a virtual environment!
Virtual Reality (VR) is a 3-D computer-generated and a simulated environment of a real or imagined world where a user can interact with the environment in a lifelike way using special equipment, which is usually an audio-visual enabled pair of goggles. In virtual reality, a person can see, hear, speak, move around, interact with the environment, and in some instances, feel, or smell.
VR enables people and businesses to set up highly interactive virtual conferences. It can substitute a lot of in-person interactions, cutting down significant travel and time investment. Let’s explore these scenarios.
- Imagine the world’s leading automotive aftermarket trade fair– Automechanika is happening in Shanghai, where many automotive manufactures are displaying their components, automation, and production technology. Using a VR set, you can immerse yourself in the event virtually, visit different kiosks in the form of virtual room to see their displays, meet and interact with industry leaders and strike a conversation with them. VR makes this possibility a reality – from your living room, while you enjoy a cup of latte!
- Tech conferences organized by analysts like Gartner, ISG, Avasant, etc. can be remotely attended. As these conferences have multiple agendas, multiple virtual rooms can be created for different cohorts. For common speaker sessions, the rest of the audience can be seated in simulated rooms and muted for better focus.
- The idea of customer visits can be overhauled, leveraging virtual environments. With the help of a VR set, customers can walk through a virtual campus, watch guided 3-D enabled demos and tours – this would be an immersive experience!
- For MNCs, annual conventions of senior leadership, board members, or cross-functional teams for various purposes like training, new deals/proposals, strategy meetings, and appraisal is typical. Associates from different global locations fly to attend such meetings. VR is ideal for hosting such conventions remotely in a fully simulated environment – bringing together larger teams impeccably.
While there can be multiple applications of VR in various industries, it can be impactful only if the experience adds measurable value. This implies that the sensory input should be of high quality and visuals must be in high definition with a high frame speed to capture movement or gestures. Attention to detail like architecture expansion and the use of haptic gloves for handshake will thrust a seamless user experience. Locomotion in VR is provided with teleportation, which is controlled by a joystick. Omni-directional treadmill eliminates teleportation glitches and any sensory discomfort by allowing the user to walk in all directions indefinitely within the confines of his or her space.
Large-scale adoption of VR makes a strong business case for companies as well. One of the best VR headsets – Oculus Quest’s one-time investment cost is around $400, which matches the expense of a one-way international flight ticket. Hence, the exceeding transportation costs for attending conferences and business meets can be significantly reduced. Also, all the infrastructure costs of renting/building a space for conducting large meetings like rent, electricity, water, network costs can be truncated to near zero-levels. Employees would no longer need to travel long distances and thus condense the travel time, which can be devoted to core company tasks. This profound reduction in travel will also lead to low carbon emissions, contributing to the well-being of the environment.
The video game industry has used VR since the 1990s. Currently, brimming sectors like real estate, automotive, healthcare, retail, and education are also examining how to best harness its potential. As the VR technology evolves, making itself deeply engaging and cost-effective, organizations cannot overlook the multiple benefits it offers – facilitating impactful meetings with external/internal stakeholders. In due course, VR will shatter physical barriers and reform peer-to-peer interaction.
How about a future scenario where an on-site delivery manager virtually joins a performance appraisal meeting in Pune, leads a guided virtual tour of a remote facility in the afternoon, and then concludes his day by attending a Google Cloud summit in another continent– all from his home/virtual office!