As post-pandemic uncertainty in supply chains, talent shortages, climate crises, and inflation persist, it’s clear that organizations need to focus on strategies that strengthen productivity and resiliency. Immersive employee experiences (EX) can help by optimizing processes from hiring and training to production and field service.
Immersive EX can also meet job candidates’ rising expectations for their hiring and work experiences and deliver the kind of sustainability and inclusion results that many consumers now expect from brands. As Forrester stated in its Predictions 2022 guide, customers and employees are demanding more: seamless cross-channel experiences, convenience, reassurance, and commitment to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) values.
To see how connected, immersive EX can contribute to productivity, retention, sustainability, and inclusion, it’s important to first define immersive experiences. We view them as experiences that combine relevant user-interaction technologies at the right moment, in the right context.
The technologies can range from traditional mobile and computer interactions to AR headset-driven experiences, spoken interactions with voice assistants, motion-activated control of lighting and sound, digital signage, etc. The timing and contexts can include applicant screening, hiring and onboarding processes, training, meetings and collaboration, customer service support, field service and troubleshooting, sales and marketing, and much more.
Immersive Employee Experiences Can Enhance Productivity and Retention
Productivity gains can help organizations reduce costs, increase revenue, and modulate the impact of talent shortages. Engaging and connecting with employees through immersive experiences is one strategy for increasing productivity and retention. For example, an employee portal that prompts employees to complete tasks, take training, complete timesheets and expense reports, and manage travel records can allow them to handle those processes faster and reduce time spent on email reminders and follow-ups.
Mixed-reality training can enable employees to learn more quickly and retain knowledge better through immersive real-time 3D experiences. For example, some vehicle manufacturers already use augmented reality technology to train production line workers to assemble delicate or complex components before they join the line, to help them get up to speed quickly without risking production slowdowns or quality control issues. Providing an example of ambient or passive immersive experiences, smart sensors and building management technologies can support productivity by adjusting temperature, lighting, and humidity settings based on human activity in real time, for optimal employee comfort and fewer distractions.
Productive employees can also devote more time to addressing customer needs and building relationships with customers. As Forrester noted, technology programs that improve EX and CX can drive competitive advantage, and deliver a 3% to 5% net gain in productivity. Productive employees are more engaged and happier, which in turn increases retention.
Immersive EX Can Make Processes and Practices More Sustainable
The same smart building technology that can customize the indoor environment for workers can also reduce companies’ heating, cooling, and lighting costs, along with their carbon footprint. For example, a regional sustainability program estimates that motion sensor-controlled lights in open-plan offices can reduce lighting costs by 20 to 25%, while in warehouses these kinds of immersive controls can cut lighting costs by up to 75%, with a typical time to ROI of three years or less.
Other immersive technologies, such as mixed-reality employee training, equipment troubleshooting, and creative collaboration, can reduce the amount of air travel needed for these activities. Considering that a single New York-to-London flight emits one ton of carbon dioxide per passenger, immersive investments that connect employees remotely could have a major ESG impact for organizations. That’s especially important for B2C brands, because the number of US consumers regularly purchasing from brands that “align with their personal values…will surpass 50% in 2022,” while consumers in Canada, the U.K., Italy, Germany, and Spain are also increasingly making similar purchasing decisions.
Immersive Technology Can Make the Employee Experience More Inclusive
Currently, US adults with disabilities have twice the unemployment rate of nondisabled adults. Expanding accessibility through immersive EX can bring more people into the workforce and allow them to move into new roles. Immersive technologies that recognize gestures or speech in place of typed commands, teach through augmented reality experiences rather than text, or allow for hearing rather than reading text can all make the employee experience more inclusive.
For example, one mobile software operating system is working on a new release that will recognize the owner’s gestures without requiring them to touch the device screen. That will allow users who can’t use touchscreens to interact with their environment through their phones — for example, to send messages, make calls, run searches, participate in videoconferences, control smart devices and equipment, and more.
The inclusivity benefits of connecting employees through immersive experiences helps employers who are struggling to find talent in a tight labor market. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 26% of US adults have a disability, with mobility being the most common disability type. Among military veterans of working age, 30% have a disability. Adopting technologies that eliminate structural barriers to employment can expand the talent pipeline and increase workforce diversity, which is a recognized driver of increased innovation and revenue.
Building Immersive Employee Experiences
It’s tempting to invest in immersive technology and then look for problems it can solve, but it’s critical to focus on the total cost of ownership — including how immersive tools will work with the enterprise technology stack — and to start with a problem, rather than a solution.
It’s also critical to understand the user. Investing in observational and ethnographic research on your employees, their needs and tasks, and their goals is the first step toward fully identifying and understanding the issues that immersive, connected experiences can improve. Once you understand the employee journey and the areas where they need more support or better resources, it becomes easier to select the best platform and technologies to build new employee experiences.
Starting with one problem to solve, testing the solution, and then gradually rolling it out can set the foundation for a more productive, sustainable, and inclusive employee experience. It can also create a roadmap for other immersive experiences the organization can offer in the future to customers, partners, and other stakeholders. By harnessing the power of immersive technology, companies can make meaningful workplace and business improvements that set them apart from the competition.