With the world exploring new ways to safely work and train, what of those who work and train in high-risk environments as standard? The key to this new normal is VR training, writes Pat O’Connor, managing director of VRAI.

For those working from home in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, the videoconferencing provider Zoom has become a household name. The global work-from-home experiment prompted by COVID-19 has highlighted the benefits of these remote working tools. It has also illustrated the sophisticated technology that was available to us all along.

Zoom will be hailed as a company that prospered during the crisis. Looking back on previous economic crashes, there is a commonality between the companies that swam and those that sank.

As we progress into financial uncertainty caused by COVID-19, many businesses will become conservative in order to survive. Cutting costs, scaling back and bunkering up seems the safest approach. However, if we compare this to the crash of 2008, the most successful companies were those that chose to adapt and embrace change, rather than let the situation decide their faith. Whatsapp, Uber, Airbnb, Instagram and Dropbox were all founded during this time and went on to become global powerhouses.

On the face of it, there isn’t a lot that they have in common, other than being broadly digital companies. For me, the common thread between them is their ability to adapt through the last recession. They spotted a trend of consumerism of people knowing what they want and when they wanted it. With adaptability rather than reclusion at the forefront of their business model, they were able to become some of the most successful companies in the world.

So, what kind of consumer trends are likely to arise as a result of the COVID-19 crisis?

Since countries around the world went into lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19, the shift towards remote working tools has been rapid. Once the crisis abates, that expansion of the digital workplace is likely to continue. Prior to today, planning for remote work was a low priority for many businesses, largely sidelined as a perk sought for the millennial workforce. In the post-COVID-19 landscape, however, businesses who do not adequately prepare their company to work remotely will be considered reckless and may not survive the approaching economic challenges we face.

Video conferencing has allowed business to continue functioning and people to continue interacting, but it has its limitations – especially for those who operate in risky or remote environments. For front line medical staff, offshore technicians and even numerous manufacturing settings, there is a need to train for, prepare for and mitigate risk.

After all, traditional e-learning tools cannot prepare someone to climb a high voltage electricity pylon in a storm or fix a blade on a 110m high wind turbine 100km off the North coast of Scotland.

Where can business leaders look to for guidance on how to prepare their employees in this unpredictable world? I believe the answer is the military. The military has been using simulation training for decades as a way to replicate risky, remote and difficult to replicate scenarios. Sometimes the simulation was in order to avoid the prying eyes of adversaries, sometimes simulation was about cost-saving and sometimes it was simply about utility – simulation training was better and easier to do than traditional training.

Until recently, military simulation training was often reserved for high-value roles like fighter pilots, or ships’ Captains, who trained in “sim centres”. These sim centres had traditional simulators with complicated hydraulics and expensive replicas of the real-world equipment. There is now a paradigm shift occurring in military training towards providing virtual simulation at the point of need. The training is contained in a VR headset that a soldier can use while in a hangar waiting for rotation flight, or a winchman can use during a “weather day”, or a ship’s engineer can use while hundreds of kilometres away from the naval college.

The added value of VR simulation is that its inherent data capture capability can be used to provide deep insights into how individuals learn and perform. The addition of physiological sensors can allow you to know not just what people do, but also how they feel when they do it. These data-driven insights can transform our ability to reduce the risk for our employees and ensure they are confident in performing the tasks that they will face in reality.

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