By Marshall Mosher, the founder & CEO at Vestigo, leveling up remote teams in virtual reality.
Work today looked a little bit different than usual.
This morning, I looked down into the massive black void of a large crevasse, a fissure in an ever-moving glacier of ice and rock that stood between me and my goal: the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain.
Paralyzed with fear, I didn’t think I had it in me to even take the first step. But then, behind me, I heard the cheers and encouragement of my co-workers as they shouted support amid the rushing sounds of wind, snow and ice. As I started to shiver, I quickly realized I wasn’t even cold! After all, I was standing in my living room. I was shaking out of pure fear as I faced a challenge that wasn’t physically real but felt as real as any real-life scenario I’ve ever faced.
I was in virtual reality (VR) and had just started my day at work. Was it real? The emotions and the team connections were real, but it was all virtually real. In an increasingly distributed and digital-first business environment, it’s emblematic of the powerful connections and compelling experiences that can propel your hybrid teams to bigger and better things.
The Newly Disconnected Workforce
In a post-lockdown business environment, hybrid work — accommodating on-site, remote and distributed teams — is the defacto workplace arrangement for many companies. According to a Gartner Inc. survey of business executives, 82% plan to allow employees to work remotely at least part-time.
It’s easy to see why. For starters, companies are shedding office space, likely leading to long-term savings by downsizing the physical footprint. Meanwhile, employee productivity remains strong, and one study found that remote work will boost business productivity by 5% in an eventual post-pandemic business landscape.
Of course, hybrid teams aren’t without their challenges. Responding to a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review, 40% of supervisors and managers “expressed low self-confidence in their ability to manage workers remotely.” What’s more, many leaders are struggling to cultivate a strong workplace culture among remote teams as Zoom happy hours and casual Slack channels often fail to facilitate real connection and effective team collaboration.
With people leaving their jobs in droves, disconnected remote teams are especially vulnerable to excessive turnover and diminished outcomes. As the New York Times reports, “More people are beginning and leaving jobs without once seeing their colleagues face-to-face, leading to an easy-come, easy-go attitude toward workplaces.”
Simply put, cultivating workplace culture, maintaining team morale and enhancing collaboration among remote teams require real connective experiences that are just as powerful as the in-person team development opportunities that defined the pre-pandemic workplace.
Building Better Connections Among Your Hybrid Teams
Before the pandemic reoriented our workplace norms, you probably invested time and resources into training initiatives and team-building events, sometimes flying employees to disparate locations or splurging on elaborate company retreats. In a hybrid work environment, those resources can be redirected to VR experiences that are both more affordable and more effective than previous opportunities.
While the ubiquitous presence of connective technologies like smartphones, tablets and laptops allow everyone to be a quick Zoom call or Slack chat away, effective team-building and trust-developing exercises are extremely challenging to replicate in this environment.
VR can help you build better connections by allowing your teams to register both an experience and the emotion of that experience, creating psychological effects that are vastly more memorable and impactful.
By purchasing or renting the increasingly cost-effective VR headsets, companies can routinely integrate connection-driven activities into their norms. The Oculus Quest is the undisputed hands-down winner on the headset front. The price point, ease of use and app ecosystem make it the only viable option in 2021.
When identifying VR office spaces, consider Immersed VR and Horizon Work Rooms. Apps like Altspace can gather your team together in the same virtual space for everything from virtual gatherings to more leadership-development-focused opportunities.
Once equipped with these highly capable headsets, you can make your training and team-building initiatives regular occurrences rather than annual or periodical events. As a result, you can consistently foster closer connections through empowering experiences with your colleagues, regardless of physical location.
For example, team building corporate retreats, a staple of pre-pandemic company development, can now be enacted digitally and remotely using virtual reality. Imagine a virtual ropes-course-style challenge, like the one described above, that empowered team collaboration and communication to solve complicated physical challenges despite everyone present being physically disconnected across the world. In this way, VR transforms the potential of distributed teams, allowing you to help teams transcend their comfort zones, spur innovation and pursue collective growth.
As you strive to connect and inspire your teams in a hybrid work environment, VR is a uniquely capable tool to provide life-like experiences to help teams unite and thrive together.
Wouldn’t it be great if every team could have the chance to connect and grow through memorable shared experiences — if every company had the chance to see and feel these life-changing experiences without any training or travel?
For the first time in human history, we have the chance to change the standard in how we engage our team and how we encourage a mindset of limitless possibility: a mindset of limitless innovation. VR could be the key to unlocking growth, collaboration and innovation when managing your hybrid teams, allowing companies to thrive in this new and strange environment that is quickly becoming the future of work.