Just over a year ago, I was talking with my colleague Jenny Wise after she had returned from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. While we were talking about some of the virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) applications she had seen demonstrated at the event, it sparked a realization for us that the opportunity for altered realities, whether that be VR, AR, extended reality (XR), or mixed reality (MR), was much more immediate with employees than with customers.

That led to our latest report, “The Extended Reality Opportunity Today: Your Employees,” where Jenny and I share the three main employee use cases for XR:

  • Enhanced training. XR enables more employees to have more practice time in low-risk, virtual environments. Applications span everything from Walmart preparing its employees for the once-a-year, but critical, Black Friday to surgeons mastering surgical procedures. My favorite example? The FLAIM Trainer, which allows firefighters to simulate risky scenarios and get closer to the real thing with little risk — and less expense, too. This happens through a combination of VR elements to simulate a fire, along with real-world equipment such as hoses and even haptic gloves (a huge feature for the interaction design) that simulated kickback from extreme water pressure.
  • Providing information in the moment and in context. Augmented reality works well as a replacement for physical manuals — helping technicians focus on their tasks but still with the information they need available — and also for in-person contexts — letting an employee onsite remotely connect with an expert to share, draw on, and solve what they are seeing in real time. One AR tech vendor we spoke with highlighted an example of their technology in use to show technicians how to properly install hardware, leading to a 30% increase in installation efficiency and a 90% improvement in first-time accuracy.
  • Building empathy for customers and colleagues. The immersive quality of XR helps employees see the perspective of others, from colleagues to customers, more vividly. For example, Embodied Labs created VR empathy training for caregivers and doctors that shows the perspectives of people with specific diseases or impairments, such as the “Beatriz Lab,” an experience that simulates the progressive loss of visual and auditory function brought on by Alzheimer’s disease.

Now, even though employee scenarios make more sense for XR and employees are more easily compelled to try something new created by the company that signs their paycheck, that doesn’t mean that you can neglect the experience design. For many employees, it will be their first time experiencing AR or VR, so they’ll need clear instructions about how and when and in what settings to use the new functionality. Companies should also consider technology limitations and make sure they test with real users before rolling out to the entire target employee population.

Want to hear or see more? Listen to our podcast episode talking about the research below, and check out the full report for more examples and recommendations about how to use XR to improve employee training, provide continuous access to information, and build empathy for customers and colleagues.