Monday, November 29

No more fomo: major companies turn to virtual reality to liven up meetings | Working from home

SThe staff of the accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers have been holding meetings in strange places: the tops of skyscrapers, inside elegant penthouses and even luxurious ski chalets. All without leaving the comfort of your own homes.

That’s the new normal for a growing number of workers at PwC, who are buying thousands of virtual reality headsets to help combat Zoom fatigue and level the playing field for employees who can’t get into the same room during the job. Covid outbreak.

It’s the latest example of how companies are adapting to remote work, after the Covid-19 epidemic canceled international meetings with clients and sent back office workers to their kitchen tables. A recent survey by recruiter Robert Half found that 89% of companies expect hybrid work, split between home and office, to become permanent after the pandemic, leading to investments in new technology and offices that can offer more to staff than a desk and a Wi-Fi network. sign.

“The cool thing is, it’s had a ton of technologies to enable remote work for quite some time,” said Nick South, partner and future of work expert at Boston Consulting Group (BCG). “It took this massive shift to remote working in general for companies to say ‘Oh, actually, let’s try to scale it up.’

PwC first piloted the use of virtual reality headsets in the UK in 2017, but after the pandemic forced its 22,000 employees to work from home, it accelerated hybrid work plans. Its UK operation is already running two or three team meetings via virtual reality each week. Over the next 18 months, it will spend £ 75 million to redesign offices with cafeteria-style meeting areas and equip staff with new technology. That will include higher-quality microphones, video conferencing screens, and doubling its own VR headset cache to 400 by the end of the year, to help eliminate the downside of logging in from home.

PwC's recently redesigned Birmingham site
Copper stools? It is not the office of an average accounting firm. Photograph: Philip Vile / PwC

“If you are the only person in [Google] Hangouts, you’re guaranteed new ‘fear of missing something’ elements, “said PwC UK CEO Kevin Ellis. “Therefore, it is very important that our meeting rooms can level the playing field.”

A PwC staff member recalled giving a presentation for a furniture company through their virtual reality headsets. Held in the great room of a virtual conference center, participants were able to conjure furniture designs out of thin air and allow clients to view them in real time.

“It’s really quite strange but very interesting,” Ellis said, adding that he hopes the new technology will help reduce international travel after the pandemic and improve work-life balance by reducing commuting.

BCG’s own research found that 86% of UK workers claimed to have benefited from telecommuting, saying they were less distracted and had a better work-life balance.

PwC plans to redesign its UK offices in a similar style to its Birmingham site, seen here, which was recently renovated.
PwC plans to redesign its UK offices in a similar style to its Birmingham site, seen here, which was recently renovated. Photograph: Philip Vile / PwC

However, 79% also experienced negative impacts, such as anxiety, loneliness, and increasingly blurred boundaries between home and work. There is also the risk that staff, especially those under 35, will feel less visible to bosses and miss out on informal training by being around colleagues and seniors on the road. “The thing that people have really struggled with is learning and learning on the job, what you get from being alongside colleagues and face to face,” South said.

Nicholas Bloom, a British economist at Stanford University, has been researching the effects of home work for years before the pandemic broke out. He strongly advises that companies offer remote work at least one or two days a week. Their own surveys found that staff preferred the arrangement and would likely demand an 8% higher salary if they refused. They were also more productive, which was good for corporate results.

However, Bloom advises against allowing staff to leave the office entirely.

Working from home is like beer or wine – it’s great in moderation but not so much in excess. One to three days a week seems to be the sweet spot. Some companies are planning five days a week after the pandemic, but I think it is risky and problematic. It is difficult to innovate remotely, it is difficult to maintain company culture and it can leave employees feeling alone and isolated. “

Some companies, like digital bank Revolut, are renovating offices to bring together more staff after the Covid pandemic recedes.

The fintech firm is redesigning all 23 of its global sites, including its headquarters in London’s Canary Wharf, halving the number of individual desktops from roughly 2,800 to roughly 1,400 in the coming years. Instead, it will dedicate 70% of the office space to meeting rooms and group seating, while reserving some “quiet areas” for staff.

PwC work environment.
PwC work environment. Photograph: Philip Vile / PwC

While this will help reduce square footage in some offices, Revolut said it was not a cost-cutting exercise and would only represent “marginal savings.”

“In most cases, people are not primarily looking [hybrid working arrangements] from the point of view of costs. They are fundamentally thinking, ‘How do we want to work as an organization in the future’? South said.

Earlier this month, Lloyd’s of London, the 335-year-old insurance market, launched a consultation on how its landmark Grade I listed building at 1 Lime Street will be used after the pandemic.

The market, which welcomed 6,000 of its 45,000 workers, brokers and insurers on a given day before Covid, wonders how members plan to use the spaces that are generally reserved for meetings, training and events, as well as their cafeteria and center of wellness (reserved for yoga, meditation, and simple medical issues) given the hybrid work plans and “career aspirations” of its members.

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Lloyd’s is also reviewing the “future purpose and function” of its physical underwriting room, which was off limits for most of the pandemic and was temporarily replaced by a digital version that helped move more of its complex insurance negotiations. online last year.

Companies that do not consider hybrid work models are not only at risk of losing talented workers to more progressive employers, but are also isolating themselves from a more diverse group of staff, who might, for example, live outside London but would consider traveling biweekly.

“Expectations are changing pretty fast, and examples of people doing things differently come up all the time. So actually [businesses] they need to start thinking now, ”South said.

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