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Companies that use virtual reality as part of the onboarding process could impress some workers looking to join tech-savvy organizations. But virtual reality's disadvantages, including price and accessibility issues, could cause some organizations to stay away.
Virtual reality (VR) could help improve an employee's early days at a new job when the new employee is forming crucial first impressions about the company. Potential uses for VR in onboarding include office tours and training. Some companies are already using virtual reality to attempt to deliver a memorable onboarding experience, while other organizations will likely follow suit in the coming years, according to some HR leaders and technology analysts.
VR could also help employers learn more about their new worker when they participate in activities that evaluate employee traits like decision-making.
Why a focus on onboarding is so critical
An onboarding experience is likely even more important to Gen Z workers.
Younger workers expect more from their employers than previous generations, said Ranjit Nair, an adjunct professor of human resource management at Southern New Hampshire University.
"They want to work from anywhere, and they want to feel a purpose in their job," he said. "And if they don't like what they're getting from managers or the company, if they're not engaged from that very first day, you're going to have a hard time keeping them."
6 possible VR in onboarding use cases
HR departments can apply VR in a variety of areas to help improve the onboarding process. Here are some possibilities.
1. Create personal connections
Introducing a new employee to their colleagues is a key part of onboarding, particularly if the new employee is working remotely.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, VR can help foster human connections, said Allison Horn, global head of talent at Accenture, an information technology company headquartered in Dublin. Accenture is currently using VR for onboarding, and the recruiter who first piloted it at Accenture viewed that potential for human connection as one of the main drivers for his experiments.
Many Accenture employees go months or even years without meeting teammates face-to-face, Horn said.
The organization uses the "Nth Floor," which Accenture made using the Microsoft AltspaceVR platform, as an onboarding and training area, so new employees can encounter other workers there and communicate beyond email or office messaging.
2. Increase onboarding efficiency, decrease costs
Virtual reality could potentially save companies money when HR uses it for onboarding.
Live trainings are time intensive. In comparison, VR can be more efficient for onboarding experiences than individuals providing it live over and over.
"Training many employees through a [conventional] onboarding experience is expensive, and it's time-consuming," said Gia Ganesh, vice president of people and culture at Florence Healthcare, a software company located in Atlanta.
HR and managers can create trainings once through VR and then reuse those trainings with a host of employees, Ganesh said.
Any material that employees can access -- from simple Word documents to video trainings -- feature that reuse capability. But VR can offer more immersive qualities.
"VR gives us so many more options," Horn said. "And we can scale learning experiences at a reach, speed and quality that other efforts can't do."
In addition, virtual reality could help employees remember the large amounts of new information thrown at them during onboarding.
"[VR has the potential to deliver] more memorable learning and better learning outcomes," Horn said.
Real-life use case of VR for onboarding
Accenture's uses of virtual reality during onboarding include a virtual hike.
Workers experience a climb through virtual reality that teaches them about the company's core values, with the experience tying different pieces of climbing equipment to specific principles, Horn said.
"This is the kind of thing we can do in VR, but we can't do in a classroom," she said.
Accenture has been experimenting with virtual reality and augmented reality for over a decade, Horn said. But the company hadn't used it for onboarding until a UK-based recruiting specialist experimented with VR to improve onboarding. Leaders in the firm's global talent function were impressed with his work, so they started to scale the program during the past year.
Accenture ships VR headsets to new hires before their onboarding, Horn said. Individuals who can't use VR due to physical impairments or other factors use a parallel 2D computer version.
3. Impart corporate culture
Virtual reality platforms can potentially help give new employees a sense of the company's culture.
VR onboarding can include tours, role-playing, games and real-life simulations that teach new employees about the office environment and company culture, Ganesh said. All of these could help them move more smoothly into their roles.
These kinds of tours could be critical for helping a remote employee to understand their new workplace or to get a sense of other locations a company might have.
HR departments can use virtual reality to make onboarding less about tedious administrative tasks, such as signing up for health insurance, and more of a positive experience that excites hires, Nair said.
Accenture uses VR during onboarding to teach new hires about the organization.
New employees also participate in an interactive learning game that teaches them about Accenture's approach to working with clients, and they explore various exhibits and experiences, such as the mountain climb, to gain a better understanding of Accenture principles.
4. Demonstrate the company's digital chops
A company's VR use during onboarding could potentially impress a new employee.
Many workers -- particularly digital natives -- seek out forward-thinking digital organizations, Nair said. Companies that use VR for onboarding or training demonstrate a commitment to that.
Ranjit NairAdjunct professor of human resource management at Southern New Hampshire University
5. Assess a new hire's strengths and weaknesses
VR could give an employer a deeper look at their new employee's personality and skills.
HR departments can use VR to evaluate candidates and new hires for certain traits, such as their tolerance for risk or their decision-making capabilities, through games and interactive scenarios that test their reactions, Nair said.
6. Prevent an early employee departure
Recruiting is an expensive process, so companies should do everything they can to prevent new hires from leaving due to a boring onboarding experience.
"When they come to your office [to start work], you want to capture their hearts and minds so your investment stays for the long haul," Nair said.
Potential downsides of VR in onboarding
No technology is without its downsides or barriers to entry, and that includes VR.
Ganesh's company, Florence Healthcare, does not use VR to onboard new workers, and she believes she's far from alone in that.
Some HR departments don't want to adopt the technology yet due to costs, as they'd need to buy the VR goggles for workers and create or buy the onboarding content, she said.
In addition, HR departments can't rely on VR alone for onboarding, as it can be a disorienting experience for some and inaccessible to those with certain visual or hearing impairments, Ganesh said. She also wonders whether companies will discover other challenges with the technology in the future, as when virtual meetings' increase during the pandemic led to "Zoom fatigue."
"As with most things, there is usually a downside, and it's something we'll learn as we use VR more," she said.