Virtual reality becomes real in the corporate arena


You’ve applied for a job but when you arrive for your interview, instead of sitting down to impress the interviewer with the answers you’ve carefully prepared, you’re put in a quiet room, handed a virtual reality headset, and told to escape from a distant planet with the help of your spaceship crew members – who may, or may not, be in the same room as you.

Welcome to the world of corporate virtual reality (VR) – a world in which the technology that for years was the preserve of gamers and video entertainment arcades is increasingly being used by corporate human resources departments, largely for training purposes, but also for recruitment.

That’s according to Helen Nicholson, CEO at The Networking Company, a Johannesburg-based leadership development consultancy that launched a new VR, multi-player education and training tool, Team VR, in South Africa last week.

Believed to be a first of its kind on the African continent, Team VR utilises immersive learning to deliver training that is scalable, repeatable and location agnostic

Nicholson pointed out that with the way and speed at which the world of work is changing thanks to technologies like AI, the skills required for future success will be very different to the academic-type skills most people, young and old, have spent their lives acquiring.

“What’s needed are the ‘soft’ skills highlighted in the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report: complex problem solving; critical thinking; creativity; people management; coordinating with others; emotional intelligence; judgement and decision making; service orientation; negotiation; and cognitive flexibility,” she said. “Corporates are aware of this – but these are skills that are extremely difficult to learn in a conventional classroom-type environment.”

Team-building events – the fun, activity-filled outings which are designed to boost team or departmental morale – seldom produce tangible, or lasting results.

“South African corporates are looking for something they can use for team building that makes a sustainable difference. Virtual reality type training like Team VR, which has been designed specifically as a training tool, offers a solution,” Nicholson added.

VR learning

Team VR is cloud-based and replaces on-site, classroom-style learning, making training and development accessible for remote employees. Companies can use it everywhere, whether employees are in different offices or different countries, and it’s repeatable – so employees or teams can go back and repeat the exercise and learn from hindsight and experience.

According to Nicholson, VR learning is an excellent tool to deal with conflict resolution, ethics and compliance, and to help make teams more agile. 

“The immersive and interactive nature of VR learning also makes it a good tool to use to identify team members’ skills, and assess things like how they deal with a crisis, for example, or how they react to a range of different, presented scenarios.”

As Mark Scarrett, CTO of Jensen8 – the British developer of Team VR – noted, the VR ‘game’ does not give participants anywhere to hide.

“Your true self comes out: if you’re an arrogant person, if you’ve got a big ego, if you’re not a team player, it’s all going to come up. And often, the most unlikely, quiet and shy individual ends up as the team leader.

“But the point is not to pull people down. Everything is measured; the participants are debriefed after each ‘game’; they are then taught how to develop or change their behaviours; and then they can go back and repeat the exercise and see how much they developed,” he said.

Jensen8 is also currently working with a Dubai-based company to tailor Team VR for the evaluation of job applicants. 

“You can claim to be a good team player in your interview; you can say you are good under pressure, or that you are a creative thinker… but this technology, which we have evaluated against standard psychometric tests, will soon reveal the truth. It’s a truth that is not only good for the business, but also for the individual as it gives them real insight into their own strengths and weaknesses,” Scarrett concluded.