Employees have little interest in using VR at work, report finds

Forrester says claims around metaverse workplaces are often exaggerated.
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Francis Scialabba

· 4 min read

Does the hype about a futuristic metaverse office have you preparing to set up a pixelated workstation? No? Well, you’re not alone.

A new report from research firm Forrester found that claims around the workplace potential of extended reality devices and metaverse applications are often exaggerated. Employees have shown little interest in using these devices for work, and a surge of interest in the technology brought on by the pandemic has since stalled, the research found.

Forrester’s research found that only 8% of the 10,000 employees surveyed used a VR headset for work on a weekly basis, while only 7% used an AR or mixed-reality device. Just 4% and 2% of those employees said they would prefer to use either of those devices, respectively, for work.

The findings are in contrast to recent fanfare around augmented reality and virtual worlds as workplace tools.

A missed opportunity: As the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic drove employees to home offices, companies demanded technology to better engage employees—and VR and AR companies saw the situation as ripe for a long-awaited inflection moment.

However, the technology isn’t yet up to the task for the most part, Forrester VP and Principal Analyst J.P. Gownder said.

“It was pretty clear that at that time, which was 2020 to 2021 in particular, that these technologies were not ready for prime time for most enterprise users,” Gownder said. “If you used it, you had to kludge something together; it wasn’t a great experience, it probably wasn’t very secure.”

One IT head at a bank relayed to the surveyors how the company purchased VR headsets for dozens of employees during the pandemic. But when travel returned, the devices were rendered less useful.

“We bought three, then 10, then 20 more, then 30 more. It was an exciting way to connect the IT teams when offices were closed due to the pandemic,” the executive said in the report. “We realized that VR isn’t a full replacement for travel, so people started traveling again.”

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For VR in particular, the hardware remains too cumbersome for people to comfortably use for a long stretch of time, Gownder said.

“Most people don’t want to spend hours at a time with a gigantic device on their head,” Gownder said. “For head-mounted displays, the Holy Grail is something that looks like the glasses I have on my face right now. That is, not particularly obtrusive. We’re pretty far from that.”

Some bright spots: While the general takeaway is one of expectations falling short, Gownder said there are a few key use cases where VR and AR are making a difference in the way people work. The technology seems to make sense in cases where there is a hands-on component, he said, like creating a digital twin of a nuclear power plant to practice safety scenarios, as the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission is exploring.

The most popular established use is enterprise training and onboarding, where the technology can give a new dimension of engagement for workers, he said. Gownder mentioned Walmart’s use of VR to train more than 1 million store associates as an example.

Gownder also said tens of thousands of companies used AR for remote assistance to frontline workers during the pandemic, when they weren’t able to send people to help fix machinery or equipment.

“Beyond those two scenarios…[if] you’re going to be an early adopter, it’s going to be a tough road,” Gownder said.

Gownder said that the hype around the metaverse has been a distraction from some of the more practical and robust uses of the technology.

“The metaverse conversation really was detrimental in many ways to the space because it just created a big bubble of hype,” he said. “And now that the bubble’s popped and it’s been debunked, people have written it off entirely. And so we need to bring some balance to this appraisal and say, if you're solving tangible problems, especially in learning or in remote assistance, there is something you can do today.”

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