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Training in virtual reality environments always made sense for certain specialized jobs in healthcare and the military. During a year of remote work, the ROI of this tech investment changed. Tuong Nguyen, a senior principal analyst at Gartner, said that the pandemic has caused many organizations to reevaluate virtual reality platforms as a way to support remote work.

“This has put a spotlight on VR as one possible tool for employers to use – not just as a tool to enable remote work due to health concerns, but also evaluating VR’s potential beyond the immediate need, as a more strategic investment,” he said.

PwC found that soft-skills training was more effective in a virtual setting and Walmart used a VR training module to train more than 1 million employees to use the “pickup tower.” This service was crucial during the pandemic as consumers wanted no-contact shopping options. According to an article on Harvard Business Review, this training method reduced training time from eight hours to 15 minutes.

Cheaper VR headsets also have supported this expansion of VR training. SAIC has used augmented reality and virtual reality for many years for military applications, and now its game division is using Oculus headsets to develop training modules.

Scott Hungerford, manager of the game division at SAIC, said SAIC is considering the VR platform as an enabling technology for training and other use cases for all customers, including civil space exploration companies and intelligence agencies.

Hungerford leads a team of artists and game developers at Big Timber Studios, which is part of SAIC. Hungerford said that the VR training platform makes collaboration easier by allowing people with various skill sets and from all branches of the military to work together in a shared space.

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“It’s effective, informative and breaches the barriers of traditional training,” he said.

Nguyen said VR training works best for jobs that require empathy-based decision making as well as jobs with high consequence situations, such as high risk, high cost or high insurance. This includes jobs that carry a physical risk such as working on oil rigs or manufacturing plants as well as training that could require a facility to shut down for the training to be conducted.

“Other use cases are for soft-skill training where an immersive VR environment can improve, or extend training effectiveness over written, or traditional video-based training,” he said.

Sherman Johns is a capture manager and space strategist for SAIC. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force with 20 years of experience in space operations. He describes his work with SAIC as creating products and services that he needed while working in the Air Force.

Johns said that SAIC’s VR training products are designed for customers who need virtual options to support a distributed workforce or to train large groups with limited resources.

“There are always resource limitations all the way from human instructors to physical spaces,” he said. “If I can create a training environment in a VR environment, I no longer need a 1,000 or 10,000 square foot facility.”

Nguyen recommends adding VR to the overall corporate training toolbox and making a case-by-case evaluation about whether the technology is the right choice.

“If everyone is working remotely, and does verbal, 30-minute check in calls every other day that don’t require much more than a roll call, VR is likely not the best tool for the job,” he said. “But if multiple stakeholders need to review multiple iterations of a CAD drawing, VR can be beneficial.”