September 22, 2020

How VR could solve the UK’s productivity puzzle

British workers produce less than almost any other nation in the western world, and it’s holding our economy back. Could technology hold the solution? Ben Bennett, from virtual and augmented reality developer Luminous, thinks so. In this article, he discusses how Britain could harness the power of virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR) software to solve the productivity puzzle.

Britain is in the grip of a productivity crisis. The rate of productivity growth, which measures the average output per hour worked, has been stagnant ever since the 2008 recession, and the slump has been more pronounced in the UK than any other western country. The average French worker could stop working on Thursday and still produce more than their British counterparts do in a full working week, according to figures from the ONS.

Worker output is essential for a strong economy, and rising productivity rates help to keep inflation low and wages and living standards high. Drastic change and modernisation are needed if Britain is to overcome this slump, and one of the most exciting technological advancements that looks set to improve the way we work is virtual reality. Here, I’ll explore the ways that virtual and mixed reality software could help British businesses to increase productivity.

First things first: what is VR?

Virtual reality software allows users to access a simulated yet highly convincing virtual environment using a headset. This creates a fully immersive experience that tricks the brain into thinking the environment is real, meaning that users react in a naturalistic way to artificial scenarios.

Mixed reality blends both virtual, simulated environments and holograms with the real world, using immersive technology to combine the two. Both the real and virtual worlds are merged to create a new type of environment, where physical and digital objects and images interact with each other in real time. This is done using a HoloLens, which is type of headset with a built-in computer which allows the user to interact with holograms as if they were part of the real world.

At the moment, most people associate VR and MR technology with video games and entertainment, but businesses are increasingly waking up to the ways that this software could be used in the workplace. Here, we’ll run through some of the most exciting potential uses.

Easier, more effective collaboration

Improving productivity isn’t about working longer hours: it’s about using the hours you already have efficiently and ensuring that time isn’t wasted on pointless tasks. VR offers a completely immersive experience and can make dull or hard to understand data more visual and interactive. By making staff meetings as possible engaging, you can avoid wasting time in dull, unproductive meetings with a room full of employees who are half asleep.

VR is also a useful tool for long-distance collaboration. Traditionally, employees would need to travel to work with people at remote locations, which eats up working hours and leaves staff feeling tired and drained. But, using VR software, employees in different locations can collaborate together on the same product or design in real time, removing the need for travel and ensuring business hours are used productively.

Better training

Training is often overlooked in conversations about productivity. But, providing effective training helps to ensure that employees have the skills they need to work efficiently, contributing to increased productivity later on in employment. And, as our increasingly digital world develops at a very fast rate, businesses need to make sure that they are frequently refreshing training and reacting to changes in their industry if they want to keep productivity high. One of the biggest benefits of VR is that it makes training much easier, cheaper, and more effective, so it can be used to provide effective refresher sessions that keep workers ahead of the curve.

Accessing and creating information could be easier

It’s not just VR which is set to transform the way we work. Exciting new developments in mixed reality technology could also help to make the way we store, access and create information much more efficient. By combining HoloLens software with cloud-based data storage and machine learning tech (like Azure Cloud), workers can access technical data in real time through a heads-up display as and when they need it.

This means there’s no need to stop work to spend time looking up information, as the user can easily access it as they work on a task — which could be a brilliant time-saver in a number of hands on industries, including on construction sites and in factories. Data can also be captured hands-free using voice notes, which can be converted into written reports and documents using a speech-to-text converter, and then stored in the cloud.

Employee wellbeing and privacy

Fancy taking a stroll on a mountainside during your lunch break? Or perhaps you need to escape the hustle and bustle of the office and find a quiet place to focus on a tricky idea for a while. While it might sound closer to sci-fi than a modern workplace, VR allows users to visit completely immersive environments from their desk. This means staff are able to take more refreshing work breaks or just block out the distractions of the typical office environment and really get in the zone.

A sluggish productivity rate is damaging our economy. If we want to return to pre-recession rates of growth then we need to transform our workforce using modern technology, and VR could be one of the best chances we have to do this.