Virtual reality could revolutionise HR

David Jackson reflects on his experiences with virtual reality, and where it could take the profession next

It’s been a year since I hosted the world’s first virtual reality (VR) HR event. Given that Microsoft recently announced its acquisition of the VR platform I have been using, it’s an opportune moment to think about what we have learned about the potential of HR applications for VR, and what a future funded by the Microsoft dollar might make possible. 

For those of you who haven’t yet used the AltspaceVR platform, a quick overview. Through the use of a headset and earphones, you are able to enter virtual spaces and meet other people who are represented by avatars. Most of these avatars are humanoid in appearance, though some are more abstract or based on robotics. As well as the ability to move around and interact with other individuals, or groups stood together, it is also possible to run PowerPoint-style presentations, play games and chair more formal meetings. The sense of immersion in the virtual world is impressive in part because of the use of 3D sound, which means a speaker’s voice will become louder the closer you move towards them, and will be slightly quieter in your right ear if they are stood to the left of you. 

There are several headsets available and other tools such as handheld trackers and even gloves. This means that, as well as head movements and voices, an individual’s hand movements and gestures can also be perfectly replicated in the virtual space. The result is a remarkably natural and human experience in which you can, to a point, read body language and feel comfortable that the movements you are seeing match the words you are hearing being spoken. 

What we have learned is that this kind of platform can bring people together from all over the world to interact in a single space in real time. The experience benefits hugely from the fact that the fairly standardised VR kits and networks mean that the person joining from Bangladesh or Peru sound no more distant or faint than the person joining from Birmingham or Essex. Even if we only use this space and technology to share ideas with each other in a more engaging way than blogs and YouTube videos, this adds something to the communication of HR knowledge in a region or organisation.

The potential with more investment is huge. We are already close to a situation in which you could interview a candidate using voice-changing software, which would mean that you could have a very lifelike interaction without ever knowing their age, gender or race. It will also be possible to collaborate in real-time hackathons and other problem-solving groups, with people being able to demonstrate real-world objects and images in the virtual world.

The key to unlock all of this potential will be mass take-up of the technology required to access VR. Microsoft is reported to be poised to release a $299 headset designed with Windows 10 in mind, which will make the experience much more affordable to those who are not able or willing to meet the current high price of around £800.

If you are interested in talking more about any of this, let’s meet on the sun deck of a luxury beach hut overlooking golden sands and the ocean and chat there – it’s all just a few clicks away.

David Jackson is associate director of HR at Manchester Metropolitan University

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