After returning from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last year, where I walked miles to test every virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) experience, one thing was clear: They aren’t ready for mainstream consumer use. But what about for employees? I spoke with my colleague Sam Stern about the applications I’d seen at the event, and it sparked a realization for us that the opportunity for extended reality (XR), whether that be VR, AR, 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,” in which Sam and I share the three main employee use cases for XR today:

  • More 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. One example we researched was the FLAIM Trainer, which allows firefighters to closely simulate risky scenarios with little risk — and less expense, too. My favorite part? 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.
  • 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.

Beyond the value XR can provide, you’ll also have a more captive audience with your employees, who you can equip with the right technologies and more easily compel to try something new. But 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.