It’s no secret the past year has changed the way modern organizations operate, from embracing remote work to broadening the lens on employee safety. But while the catalyst behind these shifts may be reaching a long-awaited end, it’s clear the momentum has driven us forward into a new era of work enabled by technology.
According to Gartner, more than two-thirds of CFOs (74%) plan to permanently shift a percentage of their employees to permanent remote work even after the COVID-19 crisis ends. This trend is largely attributed to greater productivity and lower operating costs associated with a remote or hybrid workforce.
But supporting productivity, collaboration and even training in this new era of work comes with new challenges which aren’t always easily solved through traditional technology platforms. As organizations learn to adapt to these new realities, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) solutions provide a valuable and engaging alternative — giving employees new levels of access to work environments, customers and one another.
A 2020 survey commissioned by Grid Raster found that 56% of businesses had implemented some form of mobile AR or VR technology, with an additional 35% considering opportunities for implementation. In the past year, spending on mixed reality solutions is estimated to have increased across retail, manufacturing and even government agencies.
By connecting workers with enhanced access to their environment, AR and VR solutions are equipping these organizations to solve complex problems in innovative ways — from providing more effective training programs to supporting employee safety and improving collaboration.
According to the survey, top applications for AR and VR currently include:
One of the key benefits of virtual reality is the ability to provide simulated training for high-risk tasks, particularly those in the fields of healthcare, manufacturing and energy. However, augmented reality can be used to support the execution of these tasks in real time. Augmenting the user’s field of vision with alerts, points of focus or even step-by-step reminders can simplify complex decision-making and reduce instances of human error.
Finally, when it comes to the future of work, one of the simplest, but most powerful applications for mixed reality is collaboration. Providing a virtual workspace for employees and even customers to gather “face to face” can streamline communication, improve understandings and provide a sense of community beyond what’s possible with standard video conferencing platforms.
Among the most widely known and widely adopted AR/VR devices on the market today is HoloLens 2. Launched in November of 2019, Microsoft’s response to the increased demand for mainstream mixed reality provides a uniquely accessible point of entry for modern organizations. The standalone headset boasts a user-friendly holographic interface, audio guidance and a range of other built-in capabilities designed to help users make the most of the technology from day one.
Voice command capabilities equip employees to keep their hands on their work while keeping useful information in sight, a function which has extremely valuable applications in healthcare and medicine, engineering and design, as well as military training and other sectors. Last year, Lockheed Martin announced HoloLens 2 was being used to support the production of NASA’s Orion spacecraft. The headsets provided audio and visual guidance to users performing high-precision manufacturing work, allowing employees to complete repetitive tasks up to 90% faster and all but eliminating assembly errors.
With Microsoft Teams and Dynamics 365 Remote Assist, HoloLens 2 also provides opportunities for hands-free remote assistance. In the medical field, this enables doctors to perform a procedure on a patient, while other specialists provide guidance or analysis through a live video feed — from anywhere in the world. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, this functionality proved extremely valuable to organizations like Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. Using HoloLens 2 allowed consulting physicians and surgeons to support front-line workers while reducing exposure to high-risk individuals and even helped to conserve limited Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Furthermore, as modern organizations become more distributed and concerns over cybersecurity continue to grow, HoloLens 2 provides peace of mind with built-in, enterprise-grade security. An end-to-end framework safeguards data and protects privacy while enabling communication and collaboration across the globe.
Equipped with these features, HoloLens 2 has helped leading organizations achieve impressive gains in operational efficiency:
As previously mentioned, Dynamics 365 Remote Assist empowers teammates to work together to solve complex problems in real time without requiring them to be in the same physical location. For businesses looking to eliminate unnecessary travel, reduce risks, costs or delays related to in-person meetings, this provides workers with all the benefits and capabilities of on-site collaboration without the hassle.
Remote Assist combines live video, one-on-one or group calling, high-resolution snapshots and screenshots, and mixed reality annotations, allowing employees to share real-time views with remote collaborators while remaining safely distanced and hands free.
For those looking to adopt a modern approach to on-the-job training or improve worker productivity, Dynamics 365 Guides creates dynamic instructions and step-by-step walkthroughs for employees to access within an organizational workflow. The mixed reality application allows operators to draw from visual instructions as needed. These virtual guides can include images, videos and three-dimensional models. Best of all, they don’t require any coding or specialized programming skills to create.
Guides even allows operators to control the interface with their gaze, using eye motions to move to the next step, leaving hands free and enabling workers to easily manipulate equipment and tools. The result? A comfortable and intuitive training experience that reduces mental processing time, errors and the need for live, in-person supervision of training.
Across industries, it’s clear we’re only beginning to scratch the surface of what’s possible with augmented and virtual reality. Beyond existing applications, new use cases are emerging from entertainment and tourism to asset management, mental health and even emergency response services.
As you begin to consider the role this technology may play in the future of your organization, you’ll need to think beyond basic device acquisition to develop a true AR/VR strategy. An experienced partner will be able to guide you through procurement, implementation, adoption and training to maximize the value of your investment.