We made a big deal before the event about this being a ‘World First’. After the experience, we are more certain than ever that we are getting the first misty glimpses of a New World. Collaboration across continents has never felt so comfortable, so accessible and so human.
So, we did it. The World’s first ever HR Conference in Virtual Reality. We connected with a father far from home in Bangladesh, an HR strategist from Michigan, a Director of Operations from Indiana and a student from Texas making a living as a handyman but dreaming of Astrophysics. We had tech and HR professionals from a University in Canada, one in the UK, a student web developer and a small flying Belgian. A core group of 12 of us gathered together in a virtual conference centre to talk about VR and the workplace.
So what did we learn? Other than the fascinating personal stories we shared – which were primarily about how we felt about tech and how it was changing our work and home lives – we learned a number of things:
- ConnectingHRvr is the wrong name for these events. I was genuinely surprised by the amount of hostility around the initials ‘HR’ from those outside the profession – particular in the USA. One visitor even quipped that they wondered when they saw the event advertised if it was some kind of exposure therapy for people who had a genuine phobia about Human Resources! HR was variously referred to as ‘The Devil’, the henchmen of ‘Management’ or simply the people who told you off and stopped you from doing things.
- There is genuine interest, across continents, about the future of work. OK, so early adopters of VR gear are probably not the most representative group. But even those who just wandered in to check out the ‘architecture’ were easily drawn into conversations about the future of work and what it meant for them and their families.
- People listened more than they spoke. The tech absolutely allows for people to talk over each other and interrupt – but that didn’t happen. The discussion felt natural and flowed beautifully as one person built on the points that the previous speaker had made and took the discussion forward.
- The immersion of VR unlocks a sense of playful, childish wonder in us. I had the privilege of speaking to two people last night who were having their first experience of VR. I could see their avatars looking around and, from the movement of their head, could sense the wonder they were experiencing. These feelings encourage a sense of playfulness which, for me, is at the heart of innovation. If listening to each table feedback from their discussion at the end of a dull workshop is at one end of the scale, this was at the other.
- We need to present more provocations to keep the discussions (reasonably) focussed. We are able to have questions, statements, or other provocations visible in the VR space to spark and encourage debate and a number of people suggested that would be helpful for next time. Which brings me on to my final point…
- We are going to do it again. I was approached by a member of the AltVR team who asked if I would host another event – but this time more broadly described as VR in the workplace and the future of work. There was a suggestion that AltVR will help to promote this and perhaps make it a regular monthly event. It would have been rude to say no, wouldn’t it?