It seems pretty often that we are on the verge of a new technological innovation that will ‘forever’ change the way we do business. Last year we saw household 3D printers hit the market with affordable new products like the 3Doodler, which extrudes heated plastic filaments and enables you to draw solid objects.

A few years before that we saw smartphones and tablets really take off and storm the workplace, adding opportunities to work remotely whether it was just from home or on the other side of the world. While this was possible before, it has never been easier and is now common practice with just under half of NZ SMEs having employees who work from remote locations. It is not without its benefits either, with businesses adopting this approach being 43% more likely to see increased productivity and revenue compared to those without. Throw that in with being able to skip the daily commute into Auckland City and you’ve got a solid deal there.

Now think way back to when Cloud Computing was first released. The year was 2006 and the software was considered to be revolutionary and miles ahead of anything we had seen in the past.

Today neither of those last two ideas are at the forefront of a competitive advantage but are seen as a competitive necessity by many organisations just to exist in their markets. The point here is that while your product or service may be unique, one day it will blend into everyday life to the point where it is barely noticed, while future innovators use that very framework for their own ideas.

What’s the next big thing to come from you might ask? Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 12 months you have probably heard the term Virtual Reality (or VR) being thrown around with a bit more weight. Built to enhance your gaming experience, many well-known companies including Samsung, Oculus, and Sony are heavily invested in the market as they see it as a substantial opportunity and the next big thing. It’s no surprise that people are already open to new realities- Pokemon Go uses Augmented reality to enhance the user experience and has soared to the top of App Stores worldwide in a matter of days by captivating nations into a hunt for virtual Pokemon.

“As the technology advances, price points decline and an entire new marketplace of applications hits the market, we believe VR/AR has the potential to spawn a multi billion-dollar industry, and possibly be as game-changing as the advent of PC”. – Goldman Sachs, 2016

With its instant success with Gaming in such a short space of time, it’s little surprise that people are already beginning to wonder at the potential that can be unlocked by VR. Businesses are already predicted to become virtual in the not too distant future and with the VR market picked to be worth an estimated $34 billion (USD) by 2022, it’s not hard to see that applications will go beyond the Gaming industry which we have predominantly seen so far.

Try and think ahead of how VR might influence your business in 10 years time. Filling vacancies in your organisation? How about interviewing them via a VR headset and getting a realistic preview of what they are like before you decide whether or not to move them along to the next stage and meet them in person? Sounds familiar right? You’ve been able to do this for years using Skype or other webcam applications.

But were you able to give them a virtual tour of the office as if they were standing right next to you and show them their likely workspace? The layout of an organisation can tell you a lot about what it might be like working for them. The different departments could be mixed, or they might not interact at all implying that opportunities to learn about the business as a whole could be limited- which can be critical to an employee deciding whether or not they are a good fit for the organisation. While some organisations do use video to give previews of their company, it would be fair to say many are staged and they don’t allow any opportunities for interactions with the recruiter.

Out of all the various areas of HR, Learning and Development will most likely benefit the most from merging into the virtual world. Here VR technology could be implemented to simulate realistic scenarios and interactions that they may face within their role. A customer service rep could learn from existing employees how to greet employees, the steps to take when dealing with an unsatisfied client, or what protocols to take when an emergency arises- ensuring that they are well equipped with (somewhat) practical experience and able to slide right into their role with minimal risk.

Meetings and other collaborations can still take place, even while being hundreds of miles away from your colleagues or clients, and give you that sense that you are sitting right there in the room with them. By simply putting on the headset and some noise-cancelling headphones, you can shut yourself off from your real surroundings and make your way to the virtual meeting room or take their viewers on an interactive 3D journey and manipulate charts and tables right in front of them.

It can often be time-consuming for the recruiter to go through the onboarding process with each new employee, especially in situations where you are constantly hiring new staff. Using VR, new employees could be welcomed by the CEO and meet the key members of the organisation and who they would be working with. Giving the candidate all the time at their disposal to learn about the business without stepping a foot in the door will allow the employee to properly digest all the new information which can be overwhelming at their own pace, and help make the process more understandable while saving the organisation resources.

While adoption rates will be slow due to the large cost still currently associated with the technology, many businesses will soon be getting curious about how VR might have an impact on their business as their competitive landscape changes in the future. That being said it could still flop. For now, only time will tell whether or not the day is coming when VR becomes the norm.