A Business Perspective on VR: The Pro's
Updated: Nov 1, 2022
Let me just admit this right now. I have lost all perspective and you should be suspicious about listening to my thoughts on Virtual Reality (VR) for business. The reason is I have changed from being deeply skeptical of the value of VR in a business setting to being a huge advocate of VR in a business setting. To me, it seems almost limitless what can be accomplished with VR for business and I lay out why I think that below.
With a strategic use of VR for business in combination with traditional meeting methods, you can literally run circles around any competitor who is tied to a face-to-face and/or a Zoom-like business model for their sales revenue. (Want to skip my pithy commentary and go right to the pro's? Click here.)
Tell me if this sounds familiar. The day starts at 6am when you pile out of bed, clean up, brush your teeth, and grab a cup of coffee before your first meeting at 8am. The first meeting is a call - a Zoom call - with a handful of people talking about some internal company issue or an external customer challenge. Everybody takes notes, has ideas, and promises to do things. After an hour it wraps up. You immediately get onto the next Zoom call which also takes about an hour. Followed by yet another call. And on it goes until the day is over. You finish the day in total Zoom fatigue having had no meaningful human contact. Furthermore, it's all been entirely about business: no sidebar conversations, no hallway conversations with colleagues, no just catching up with somebody on what's going on with them - none of that. Just business on a 2-D screen. And if you're doing it on a laptop like I do, it's not even a nice 2D screen.......it's a tiny 2D screen.
As pandemic travel restrictions fade around the world, we are faced once again with the prospect of traveling near and far to attend meetings......which at this point almost sounds like a breath of fresh air. But do you remember what those days were like? Get on a plane Sunday to be ready for meetings or a conference Monday thru Thursday morning. Fly home Thursday evening. Catch your breath on Friday. And while the customer or the team you are there to conduct business with is well served while you're there in person, it's frustratingly difficult to keep other projects and sales moving ahead with the rest of your customer base or team members. So you end up desperately making short calls on bathroom breaks during the days to keep up with the rest of your business, and you blast out volleys of email late at night and early in the morning. That way you're only half out of the loop by the end of the week.
VR for Business holds tremendous promise to mitigate the challenges of distance and time, while simultaneously accelerating the velocity of business. All without increasing the insanity that often accompanies increased business activity. Do I think VR for business replaces the need for face-to-face meetings? No, I don't. Do I think there are downsides to VR for business? There are some. Do I think strategic use of face-to-face meetings combined with copious use of VR meetings can have you running circles around your competitors? Absolutely.
Here's why I think VR for business is a tremendous competitive advantage for whoever embraces it.
1. VR for business dramatically reduces the number of face-to-face meetings necessary to successfully achieve a given business objective. Firstly, on philosophical grounds, is replacing face-to-face meetings with VR meetings even a good idea? In my opinion it is, SO LONG AS VR for business can provide a reasonable approximation of a face-to-face experience, which means there is a sense of being "in" a meeting room with other people, natural (spatial) audio, natural gestures and facial expressions. (I wrote a more detailed description about the VR for business face-to-face "experience" here). VR is capable of this today. This mean VR has the capacity to convey a sense of being "with" others in a meeting room. You are able to build on existing relationships and dramatically reduce the number of in-person meetings. This has tremendous advantages in that it multiplies the time you have available for transacting business. Throwback: when I was working for a fast-moving startup, I found that if I traveled during off-business hours I was far more productive than my competitors were who traveled during business hours. I wasn't necessarily far better then they were, I was just more available to do business than they were. And so I was more successful. This is the same advantage VR for business gives someone who utilizes VR to hold meetings. They are less frequently on planes, in cars, or just plain exhausted than their competitors. They are more available to do business. And in my view, they will be more successful simply because they've figured out how to have more business hours. Their greater success will be in direct proportion to their greater availability.
2. There is a significant reduction in the cost of doing business by utilizing VR for business. This is a major benefit to using VR for business that usually is the first reason mentioned. I think it only becomes a consideration if VR for business can provide a reasonable replacement for some of the in-person meetings. Case in point. Zoom-like meetings are a huge cost savings over in-person meetings, but are they a realistic long-term replacement for face-to-face meetings? I believe the recent uptick in business travel now that pandemic restrictions are fading would suggest a resounding "No!". In my opinion, VR for business actually has the potential to permanently replace a subset of in-person meetings because of the sense of being "with" others that it conveys. So it's reasonable to look at how much of a cost reduction can be realized by an organization utilizing a hybrid VR/in-person meeting approach. I've calculated that cost reduction to be 70%, detailed in a blog post here. That's based on the cost of one person making an international trip for one week of in-person meetings vs. the cost of having that same one person hold those meetings in VR. To be entirely fair, I believe the real cost reduction is more in the neighborhood of 50%-60% because I don't think it's productive to entirely eliminate face-to-face meetings. Even still, consider what you could do with 50% of your Travel and Entertainment budget money still in your pocket at the end of every quarter.
3. All participants remain fully focused throughout a VR meeting, thereby substantially increasing the effectiveness of time spent. Wait....what? You mean people in a VR meeting are actually paying attention? Yes, they are. And the reason why goes to the heart of why you have in-person meetings to start with. Remember VR for business meetings have an in-person feel. But why not just use email to conduct business? After all, it only takes milliseconds to get an email to your intended recipient. It's because people aren't focused on email. They are distracted by a million other things......, phone calls, reading docs, planning presentations, sending texts. Bottom line is we all know it takes way too long to try to do business with a group of people over email.
What about a Zoom call? Same reason. People mute audio, turn off video, and are texting, answering email, and doing other things when they're not talking. You may get 25% of someone's attention. And that translates directly into the quality, or lack thereof, you get from Zoom-like meetings. So instead, you have everyone get together physically in a meeting room. That way you get the most focus from attendees and the highest quality participation. VR for business meetings are similar because there is a similar sense of being "with" someone, sitting "next" to someone, and looking "at" someone. For the same reason you're not likely to get up and leave while someone is speaking to you during an in-person meeting, you're not likely to do that in a VR meeting either. Now do people sneak peeks at their laptops and get distracted in VR meetings? Yes.......just like they do at in-person meetings. All that said, out of all the collaboration methods available, in-person and VR meetings are still the most efficient ways to collaborate and the quickest way to achieve a business goal. That's why people do them......and that's why you'll consider VR meetings as a reasonable replacement for some of those face-to-face meetings.
4. The main conference room tools can be used intuitively and effectively in a VR for business meeting. Standing at the front of a VR meeting room and giving a presentation is natural and effective. It feels a lot like you're in a physical conference room giving a presentation. A laser pointer is available to all participants for presentations. Physical laptops/computers can be easily and quickly projected into the VR meeting room, thereby enabling sharing of information the same way as in a physical meeting room. VR meeting room whiteboard sessions are natural. Multiple people can stand at the front of the room and in addition to the whiteboard at the front of the room, each participant has a whiteboard at their desk where they can add to the whiteboard content. All of these are standard, but indispensable meeting room tools that are as simple and effective to use in a VR for business meeting as they are in a physical business meeting.
I've listed four of what I consider the most important "pro's" to VR for business meetings but there are many others. For instance you can customize VR meeting spaces to fit a meeting theme, or with company logos & pictures. You can even change the room arrangement to meet different meeting needs - boardroom style for excellent bi-directional discussions, or classroom style for trainings.
The point is VR for business meetings are a tremendous tool and you should be building a meeting model which takes advantage of this new and effective way to accelerate your business velocity.