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Virtual Reality at KLM – the future of smarter collaboration?

The March 2021 session of the European Smart Work Network included a fascinating case study presented by Henk Smeenk, Concept Owner Hybrid Workplace at KLM.

According to Henk, the VR workplace is now becoming a key part of how we look at the workplace. VR is actually one of 3 main types of Extended Reality (XR). They are:

  • Virtual Reality: Immersive experience, simulates your physical presence in a different environment, and allows interaction with others in that environment. First developed in 1950s, it took off with its adoption in gaming in 1990s
  • Augmented Reality (AR) – which provides an overlay on normal reality. This is a technology that is developing first, and has many uses in industry, healthcare, retail and many other sectors. Using glasses or headsets with personal devices, additional information is added to what you see in real life
  • Mixed Reality – This is picking up fast and, according to Henk, may be the most useful in many workplaces in the future. It blends the physical and digital worlds, as you interact with computer or the environment: and looks very real, so it can be hard to see what is virtual and what is real. But it can also lead to misinformation.

XR is one of the top priorities now for tech investment, with everyone looking for a competitive advantage.

KLM began their VR journey in 2015, but the technology was not yet mature enough. it was in 2018 that things really began to get going.

VR for training

Its value has been really demonstrated in training, where environments that are costly, rare or dangerous can be simulated to increase familiarity amongst learners before encountering the real-life situations. It also means learners can make mistakes without costs, damage or health risks, and perform many repetitions to become adept at the tasks required. And VR also helps to reduce the carbon footprint of training, by reducing the number of journeys people have to take and not having to set up the real-life environments so often.

Engagement is reportedly very high as well, with big increases in learners’ confidence (275%) to act on what they learned after training, being four times more focused than e-learning, and nearly four times more emotionally connected than in classroom training.

Virtual collaboration

KLM is now piloting the use of VR of collaboration.  Using Oculus 2 headsets and Glue as the virtual collaboration platform, they have developed a Virtual Meeting Centre.

KLM's Virtual Meeting Centre
KLM’s Virtual Meeting Centre

It takes a little getting used to, but people do soon get into it and see the possibilities. Hand gestures are seen, and artificial intelligence picks up tone of voice that is conveyed by the avatars’ facial expressions.

It’s a technology that’s very scalable, says Henk, and offers lower costs of ownership than regular in-office workplaces. it’s also perceived by participants as being very inclusive. During the pandemic, it’s also useful as social distancing and hygiene are no restrictions in VR.

At the moment, Henk feels video remains better for having difficult conversations. At the moment, it’s use is more for scheduled meetings and activities such as brainstorming and workshops. However, Henk expects that¬†with greater ease of use it will evolve towards more ad hoc use as well.

As for the impact on the office – at the moment the impact is more in reducing trips than reducing space. But with the challenges organisations are facing in planning for the post-Covid workplace and in particular safe meeting spaces, we can see these technologies have potentially far-reaching implications for the future evolution of Smart Working.

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