How you can virtually save your business
A walk through the construction site in Berlin, a tour of the planned supermarket in Hamburg and a test drive with the new express train to Munich: until now, all these activities needed to be taken for granted to the respective location. In the future, a trip to Zurich-Altstetten should be enough.
The largest virtual reality arcade in Europe has just opened there. The goal: entertainment for families and children, but also business applications for companies and their employees. Virtual reality is to be part of the training programme of Swiss companies in the future. The Oculus Rift glasses in combination with a gym – sized room are intended to enable natural movements in the virtual working and corporate worlds.
“There is still no such large area for virtual reality applications in all of Europe. Almost 300 square meters are usable and can be walked one-on-one,“ explains founder Ronny Tobler.
The center of the complex is the 300-square-meter hall, where several suits for expeditions into virtual reality are lined up in a row. If you want to participate, put on the glasses and attach sensors to your feet and hands, so that you can act as naturally as possible in the VR world and notice, for example, if you bump into the low ceilings in a simulated yacht or do not have enough space between several supermarket shelves.
Tobler is currently in talks with a Swiss train manufacturer who could have prototypes of trains visualized. “In the end, it’s all about cost savings and efficiency gains,” says Tobler. “Mistakes can be avoided before construction begins.“
But VR fun is not cheap for companies. One hour of use of the VR park costs 1000 francs (856 euros). If you want to program your own VR application for companies – and this will probably be necessary in most cases to meet the specific requirements of a company-you can expect about 30,000 to 50,000 francs for smaller projects. In complex simulations, the price climbs to several hundred thousand francs. The bet of Tobler and his team: a mistake that is not noticed before construction is more expensive.
When the concept of the Fusion Arena arrives, he wants to expand in Switzerland together with Coop Immobilien. The entertainment for families and business applications for companies alternate. The morning should be reserved for companies, the evening for the more fun part.
Training market in transition
The Swiss have filled a gap in the market. Because the requirements for in-house training are changing dramatically. The programs should be implemented faster, cheaper and better controllable.
The most well-known trend in this area is probably the so-called MOOC (Massive Open online Courses), i.e. the online mass courses for employees, which can be distributed at several locations and in several countries. The advantage: cost savings by having an expert distribute his information for several thousand employees.
The disadvantage: whether employees really listen attentively or let the video training run alongside their Facebook or work activities is difficult to determine. The activity of the employees should incite mass votes on certain topics during the training. However, this element does not really bring any real control over how much of the content has really reached the employees.
Today, wooden simulations are intuitive
Stefan Michel, a marketing professor at the IMD School of Management in Lausanne, has been observing these experiments with new training formats for some time and has also experimented with them himself: “There are innovation tournaments, which is a combination of a live event and a virtual one. At one of our moderated events in Stockholm, 350 were connected live and 5000 online. At such virtual-real events, everyone can follow the presentations, the moderator can perform group work virtually and real.”Michel is already teaching more online than live, with the help of his own video studio at the Manager educational institution.
One trend that is heading in the direction of virtual reality applications is training and employee training through games. By playing through different levels on the PC or console, behavioral patterns should be trained in the same way that decision-making processes can be analyzed. Even in recruitment, gaming approaches have spread in some companies, in which conclusions are drawn from the game behavior on the future behavior as employees. Such playful approaches would also be possible in the hall in Altstetten.
“There have been management simulations for a long time that used to be wooden. They are more intuitive today, ” says Michel. The goal of most new approaches in employee training is to implement knowledge more flexibly into the organization, whereas in the past it was more about creating a stock of knowledge over several years, which is intended for a relatively consistent personnel team. In addition, it is important to be able to better check the effect of the knowledge dose and prove its implementability in daily work. Virtual reality, gaming, mass simulations or anything in combination should make these goals more attainable.
Career portals to rise
A strong pressure for change for the further training area of employees also comes from the social career networks, in which the employees romp around. For example, Linkedin: Following the acquisition of training provider Lynda, the company, which is now part of Microsoft, wants to become the major Zampano on the training market. Easy-to-access video training is intended to replace in-house training or courses at external management schools. The highest-selling area of the career network Linkedin is the talent solutions division. Here, the career network sells recruiting solutions for HR employees and could also integrate continuing education offers.
Analysts estimate that this segment accounts for nearly 60 percent of Linkedin’s market value and was the main driver of the multibillion-dollar price Microsoft was willing to pay. Through various acquisitions, such as those of the data company Bright, which was brought into the portfolio in 2014, the work for recruiters is to be made even easier. Should Microsoft open its office programs, with which almost all employees worldwide have something to do at some point in their career, for courses and further training through Linkedin’s own coaches, external providers of company further training must warm up.
What is certain is that employee training is sought after and fought over both internally and externally. It remains to be seen how the price-conscious offer of providers such as Tobler and its Fusion Arena will position itself in this changing environment. If large companies such as ABB or Stadler Rail were to enter VR simulation games, this would be the first step towards a breakthrough.
For less financially strong companies, it will need industry solutions and offers that do not have to be programmed specifically for each company, but can be used by several companies at the same time. So far, this has already worked in cooperation with architectural firms for apartment visits. There, too, it is about avoiding nasty and above all expensive surprises with the help of VR technology.
This article was first published under the title “Dive into worlds of work” in the Swiss Handelszeitung.