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Using virtual reality for soft skills training can offer myriad benefits. However, launching a virtual reality training program can come with challenges, so HR leaders should learn about potential pitfalls and necessary early steps before getting started.
Employees' soft skills are increasingly valued in today's marketplace, and taking steps like assembling the right team and thoroughly researching virtual reality (VR) vendor options can strengthen a VR soft skills training program. Taking these steps can also ensure the launch goes as well as possible for HR leaders and the employees who will eventually participate in the program.
Here are some steps HR leaders should take to lay a foundation for success.
1. Assemble a solid team
The right staff members should be part of the team for the virtual reality soft skills training program.
Learning and development leaders should play a starring role in its creation, said Aaron Sorensen, chief behavioral scientist at Lotis Blue Consulting, a consultancy located in Chicago.
"Really good learning [and] development is about creating experiences that are memorable and allow for that participant to learn [and] practice," Sorensen said. "The only way that happens is if the experience is good, and [for] instructional designers, that's their core expertise."
HR leaders' contribution should be identifying vendors that specialize in developing VR soft skills training experiences, Sorensen said.
"You're not going to want to build Pixar in your HR department," he said. "It's just too expensive. You're going to want to find a really good vendor that can deliver that customized experience for the skills you're looking to build."
2. Request demos of other VR soft skills training experiences
HR leaders should learn how other companies approached their own virtual reality soft skills programs. Watching demos of vendors' other soft skills trainings can help leaders decide what they want to include and what to leave out.
Leaders should be aware vendors may be unable to share some of their work publicly, said Cortney Harding, CEO of Friends With Holograms, a virtual and augmented reality agency located in Brooklyn, N.Y. Friends With Holograms is barred from exhibiting some work by clients' NDA agreements.
However, some demos should be available for private viewing.
3. Prepare for a different filming experience
HR leaders should be active partners in the training video filming process.
Filmmakers must shoot VR videos in 360 degrees, which involves a different process than shooting traditional training videos. In addition, virtual reality videos should avoid jumping quickly from angle to angle or shot to shot. Because of these differences, HR staff may need to adapt a traditional video training script so it works for an immersive experience.
A director with VR experience should offer their expertise but defer to an HR leader on content questions.
"Never forget that you are the subject matter expert for the HR part of it," Harding said. "If there are best practices [to include], or if there are ways to script a discussion, it needs to be really collaborative."
4. Decide upfront about scaling the VR soft skills training
HR leaders should determine from the outset whether they will scale their VR program, or it may not be cost-effective.
Companies need to make an upfront investment of 48% more for VR than they would for e-learning training, according to the 2020 study "The Effectiveness of Virtual Reality Soft Skills Training in the Enterprise" by PwC. VR reaches cost parity with classroom learning at 375 participants, and VR costs 52% less than classroom learning at 3,000 learners. It reaches cost parity with e-learning at 1,950 learners.
If an organization halts its VR soft skills training after one or two pilot programs with a small number of participants, the company may not get return on their investment, Harding said.
5. Plan for a mixed employee reception
While implementing a VR soft skills training program can eventually benefit the organization as a whole, some employees may initially respond to the VR soft skills training with skepticism.
Creating a pilot program can help alleviate these problems, Sorensen said.
"I think you start small, with a population that is used to gaming or used to technology, and you secure an early win," he said. "Demonstrate that this technology can be quite helpful, and then go from there."