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When 2020 ushered in, few anticipated an epidemic to emerge, let alone a pandemic that continues to lock the vibrant world down. However, all moments of crisis offer an opportunity for a rethink. Here is a time for admiring life’s simple things, to gain a renewed appreciation of our relationships and the environment, and start making use of the gifts rendered by technology. 

We are all set for an overhaul in the functionality of many of our essential systems, including government, work, healthcare, economy, and our lifestyles. Educational institutions, organizations big and small, and many other establishments are forced to look for alternative ways to educate, work, train, and collaborate. This article takes us through some positives we can take away from this crisis. 

The Shift from Real to Virtual

The change brought forth by the pandemic isn’t limited to the conglomerates. Many grocery stores are now looking to invest in micro-fulfilment technology, robotic warehouses, and drone deliveries to meet the increasing demand for home deliveries. Food-supply players, including the likes of Swiggy and Zomato, have been licensed to deliver groceries. 

While business practices such as remote work and telehealth were existent but stuck in a chord of behavioural inertia, the onset of this virus could accelerate the adoption of such less familiar business means. This means we could well see the back of many conventional practices, the likes of which include travelling to business meetings or conferences, having the classroom mode of teaching as the sole way of rendering lessons, manual procurements, attending live events, and even travel for that matter. 

The demand for solutions like Virtual Reality, an immersive platform with an impressive success record, has considerably spiked as people are finding a way to tackle the crisis without any bearing on their overall productivity. Statistics suggest that Virtual Reality renders a retention rate of 80% when compared to traditional training means. While more on this would be covered in this article, the pandemic testifies that the virtual space provides us with a means of sustenance when a crisis comes knocking. 

Is Work from Home the New Normal?

Conferences, team meetings, one-on-one meetings, product demos, office events, you name it, companies are now experiencing a new normal in terms of the way they work. Technologies like Virtual Reality are leading the way and are emerging as a medium that is all set to transform old school processes. Digitization has paved the way for hassle-free connectivity and coordination. Companies from India and abroad are looking out for exciting solutions to ensure uninterrupted productivity. The increased usage of home-based work solutions could accelerate the adoption of Work-From-Culture, especially if employers sense no dearth in productivity. We may be heading into a future where the way we look at work changes, and the daily commute and office-building experience may not be a part of tomorrow’s work experiences.  

Why Virtual Reality?  

As the usage of Work-From-Home devices is on the rise, let’s see why Virtual Reality is being preferred as in ideal solution:

  • Virtual Reality brings people together in the same space, even if they are miles apart in a way that renders an oh-so-real feeling. It transports people to the designed environment that they feel a part of it. 
  • It isn’t merely an alternative to video calls, but an overall enhanced experience that drives the desired results. Neither a phone call nor a video conference would bring out the liveliness rendered by a Virtual Reality environment. Why? Because people feel they are connecting with each other in a meeting room, in a single virtual space. 
  • It is the most effective means of transcribing non-verbal communications, such as voice tone and body language. This, if used judiciously, could lead to greater understanding between the participants, tackling all linguistic barriers as the application would be able to make accurate real-time translations. 
  • Participants of the medium would have the means to collaborate and work together in the same virtual space, free of any distractions. Here’s an excerpt from an interview that Yaser Shiekh, Director of Facebook Reality Labs, had with a publication: – “You could put on a headset and have this exact conversation that we’re having right now—not a cartoon version of you or an ogre version of me, but looking the way you do, moving the way you do, sounding the way you do.”  

Remote Employee Training 

“Capability building falls among the list of all-time essentials for any growing business and hitting a pause is not an option”. 

During these times of insecurity and chaos, employee safety should and is rightly the priority. But companies must find a way to continue their efforts, be it in training new employees or reskilling at the business unit level. These endeavours, among other value-creation efforts, can be continued by establishing virtual learning. 

Virtual learning programs were already showing great signs of growth before news of the pandemic hit the surface, but the virus has markedly increased such adoptions. Virtual Reality could emerge as a positive long-term strategy for companies, given its promise of enhancing the scope of learning, reducing time/travel costs, minimizing the fatality rates (especially in industries where physical training is too dangerous), and as we are experiencing now, protecting employees in the event of a crisis while still ensuring continual business training & processes. Studies point out that virtual learning increases the retention rate by 80% and incident rate by 70%. 

Organizations are increasingly exploring ways to promote their existing portfolios of digital learning, and many of them are expressing their intent to make some of their in-person training programs fully digital. Travel has always been a barrier to workplace learning, and COVID – 19 has managed to bring the issue to the limelight. Digital learning providers understand that this is a time of transition and are finding ways to help corporates tilt towards digital transformation. 

Market implementers say that the demand for immersive solutions has jumped to over two and a half times the average rates. Most of these demands, they say, are raised by manufacturing companies who are unable to send physical trainees across locations.

Remote Troubleshooting

The rapid explosion of home-based work signals the onset of not only remote training but also remote supervision of work & guidance. What we talk about here wasn’t quite possible with some occupations, at least until the recent past. For instance, field services require engineers and technicians to not only visit the various job sites to service and fix equipment but interact with a range of people to supervise their work or to guide them. The former is a time-consuming and expensive affair, while the latter cannot be completed without it. 

This prompted officials to consider the utility provided by technologies like Augmented Reality (AR). AR is a platform that enables remote collaboration by providing real-time, contextual information to remote personnel. The technology allows companies to virtually enter spaces instead of dispatching field service technicians or supervisors to the location. Vital public bodies across Europe, including Italy, France, and Spain, are exploring avenues to adopt virtual assistance platforms.

And Look How it Worked 

A visual assistance company from India, BlinkIn, had worked with a manufacturing and designing company in Germany, Huber & Ranner, in providing remote tech support to help the latter quickly deliver and install its ventilation systems and HVAC (Heating, Ventilating, and air conditioning) for two of the hospitals in Wuhan. This helped the German company efficiently complete the service, avoid dangerous field visits (in this case, technicians were required to visit virus-infected Wuhan), reduce costs and downtime.

Where Are We Headed?

Remote work not only looks a possibility but seems very essential for businesses of the future. Gone are the days where everyone could be present everywhere to aid people in their business processes. Time has come for a proven change, and Virtual and Augmented Reality solutions are already a part of the framework of most companies. 

AR Field Services

 Education

New and innovative solutions are being tried and tested on the educational front as well. While the pace of transformation in the educational realms has in general been slow, COVID-19 is making educational institutions and administrations across the world look for innovative solutions at a short notice and rethink the way education is modelled. 

The plight enforced by the pandemic is not just depriving students of their lessons at primary school, but many are experiencing forced cancellation of important and career-defining exams they might have worked hard preparing for, the abrupt disruption of courses that lays the foundation and even certifies them for future endeavours, (the likes of which may be non-academic), or even the postponement of graduation that makes them qualified for the employment they much deserve. These intimidating issues can effectively be tackled if we have a remote system in place that can ensure real-time interaction and collaboration.

Make no mistake, we are not anticipating the emergence of an experience that replaces the classroom (though that helps in these times), but Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and other supportive technologies would redefine our educational systems to make learning more realistic while bringing essential changes to the role of an educator. 

Gone are the days when the educator held all the keys to imparting wisdom to students. Students these days have access to various forms of knowledge, and the teacher’s role must be to polish this knowledge and nourish them to be valuable contributors to society. 

Immersive Technology and a touch of Artificial Intelligence can have a profound impact on the way students of varied age groups consume their much-needed lessons, without any interruptions. Yes, it is cost-efficient, has greater retention powers, and exposes students to reality, but it also helps avoid any interruptions. And as we know now, interruptions could prove to be costly. 

The below-given infographic depicts how the immersive future would impact future generations:

Telehealth

The pandemic may lead to increased adoption of a cost-controlling, high convenience system. Telehealth, or telemedicine, a provision of remote healthcare provided by means of telecommunication technology, has been increasingly used by the medical fraternity due to the current climate of necessity. Necessity is indeed the mother of all inventions.

As the world is responding to this disease, it is time for us to consider leveraging native technology features and metadata to the capabilities that telehealth offers. At a time when the healthcare system is fervently seeking solutions to battle Coronavirus, telehealth is aiding healthcare providers and caregivers across the globe to respond better to the needs of people who have contracted the virus. It also helps the former effectively aid those who require frequent consultations for other pertinent health issues. 

AR and VR, which are an integral part of telehealth, are already in the process of revolutionizing healthcare. Current circumstances make it very tough to establish courses/manuals and train healthcare professionals, given it is very expensive and time-consuming. AR and VR could help train these resources effortlessly with substantially lesser costs.

Virtual Reality could bolster hospital development and planning efforts by aiding healthcare providers to walk-through facilities with a specialized VR device, even before the blueprint is drafted. This kind of visualization would lead to a head-start in processes and serve a handful in construction and patient onboarding. 

Here are some quick facts about telehealth you should know about:

  • A study on the Geisinger Health Plan suggests that patient readmissions for those enrolled in telemedicine programs were 44% lower over thirty days & 38% lower over ninety days. 
  • Close to 75% of all urgent care and emergency visits are either unnecessary or could be safely and effectively dealt with over the phone or video. 
  • One of the most effective measures adopted by China to tackle the virus in the later stages was to make 50% of its care virtual. 

Yes, the Online Medium can be Used for the Better

Make no mistake, the online medium can lead to profound connections and value creations, it all depends on the way we use it. It is pertinent to remember that our digital tools can be a source for making connections, though it has created conflicts aplenty in the past.

In these days of the crisis, it is encouraging to hear and read reports of skype book clubs, virtual art classes, etc. We have experts sharing essential information about the know-how of the virus on social media channels. Misinformation is being curbed, and trolls are being reduced. The virus is forcing people to use the internet to connect with each other with care and love. 

This is the kind of platform – not entirely clutter-free but the proportion of which is immensely reduced – that defines appropriate online usage, and it takes a fatal disease to trigger this trend. 

The crisis shows us that the benefits of the worldwide web shouldn’t be restricted to the privileged few. It is important for everyone, including the low-income communities, students, and the elderly. It is time to use technology to connect, apart from the entertainment we consume from it. This is an opportunity to make the world a better place – it begs the question ‘if not now, then when’?