A year ago, if you told most hiring managers they’d never meet their top candidate in person, they’d laugh at the thought. Today, it’s a given. We’re living in a world of firsts in this remote work environment, and it won’t change any time soon.
As leaders, it’s our job to find new ways to recreate the magic of our physical offices. We have to make space for those water-cooler moments and find opportunities to draw out quieter team members. And most importantly, a year into remote work, we need to add a little fun into the mix.
Almost every company I know has amped up their usage of Zoom and Slack. But companies are still looking for ways to curb burnout. We need to start thinking differently about how to engage employees.
Enter virtual reality (VR), virtual worlds, and a host of virtual collaboration technologies. They aren’t just for gaming anymore. These virtual tools include everything from Hopin’s events product to Spatial’s meeting and social platform to my own company’s virtual world technology. Workplaces of all sizes are using these tools to hold virtual meetings and events, and some companies are even recreating their entire company campus in a virtual world — encompassing individual office spaces, shared workspaces, and parks.
Virtual technology can help people break out of the monotony of video conferencing and instant messaging, and collaborate with one another in immersive, real-world scenarios that foster more engaging connections and spark creativity.
And the best part? The benefits are not limited to a pandemic environment. Virtual technology can change how our teams work long-term in three fundamental ways.
1. Encourages More Dialogue Within Your Organization
How many times have you sat awkwardly in a meeting while the same two or three people dominate the conversation? It happens in almost every company, and it’s magnified in a remote environment. Extroverts often have no problem expressing themselves in person or on video calls, while introverts find it even more difficult to insert themselves into conversation.
This dynamic can completely change in a virtual environment. Employees who are more shy or introverted often tell me that, when they engage in a virtual world through an avatar, there’s a level of psychological safety and privacy that makes them feel more comfortable speaking up than they would face-to-face.
And when we hear from more people, more ideas come to the surface, which leads to better outcomes.
2. Unleashes New Levels of Creativity From Your Teams
In a virtual environment, teams have a new playground to explore. For example, when working out of a virtual world, there might be parks or coffee shops that you can visit for a change of scenery — without having to leave your physical desk. Or, there might be virtual events and entertainment venues, where you can listen to live music, interact with other avatars, and have some fun showing off your virtual dance moves. Play can encourage creativity and a sense of adventure, which are critical to innovation.
Fostering this kind of creative environment is especially important when we think about recruiting and retaining Millennials and Generation Z employees. Many younger employees have grown up with virtual gaming and thrive in online worlds, so the more engaging we can make our work environments, the more enticing it is for these candidates.
3. Reinforces and Builds on International Connections
Without expending time, money, or carbon emissions, we can bring together teammates across geographies to collaborate on projects or participate in events virtually. For instance, rather than talking through a screen, teammates can use virtual world technology and communicate through personalized avatars that walk, talk, and sit together — as if they’re in the same room.
In addition, when your colleagues are from different parts of the world, language barriers can hinder the ability to work efficiently. Virtual world platforms can help solve this challenge with built-in translation capabilities to help employees better understand each other and communicate more effectively.
The University of California–San Diego’s (UCSD) Rady School of Management faced this language barrier issue when developing an international micro-MBA program in partnership with Waseda University in Tokyo. Their response? Create a virtual campus that replicated the look and feel of the physical university, including lecture halls, breakout spaces, and outdoor areas where students could work together and build personal connections. This is distance learning reimagined.
Virtual reality and virtual worlds have long been thought to be the place of video games and high-end programs dependent on expensive headsets and hand controllers. Much of today’s virtual technology is far more accessible, requiring little more than a computer and an internet connection. From a comfortable home office, employees can immerse themselves in a virtual environment and have a lot of fun in the process.