How Leaders Can Leverage VR to Foster an Inclusive Workplace Culture

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How Leaders Can Leverage VR to Foster an Inclusive Workplace Culture

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Many companies strive for an inclusive workplace culture, but it can be challenging without the help of some well-placed tools. In a perfect world, each co-worker would put themselves in others’ shoes. The team would value their input and see the strengths they bring to their role.

Unfortunately, empathy training rarely goes as smoothly as leaders would like. Fostering an inclusive work environment requires targeted education. At the same time, brands must be aware of taking a centered approach that makes everyone feel valued and wanted. Virtual reality makes improving company culture and creating a cohesive workplace easier. 

What Is Empathy Training?

The 2024 State of Workplace Empathy Study found that 52% of Gen Zers and CEOs felt their workplaces were toxic. Although they want to be understanding, around 63% of CEOs said showing empathy during day-to-day interactions is challenging. 

Empathy training shows people how to look at a situation from another perspective. Employees come from different cultures, schools, age groups, genders and races. Their different life experiences sometimes cause clashing interactions.

Teaching inclusion helps fill the gap and get everyone working toward a common goal. The core of empathy training includes respecting other people’s feelings, beliefs and skills. 

Why Leaders Must Show Empathy

Leaders set the tone for everyone else in the company. When CEOs show people empathy, they’re more likely to learn and pass it on to others. Managers who care about their staff’s well-being will likely make better decisions and consider how changes impact everyone.

An empathetic leader looks at each person’s skills rather than personality or cultural differences and creates diverse teams for various projects. The result is balanced groups that develop fresh ideas that people of similar personalities and backgrounds might not consider. 

While empathy training should stem from wanting employees to feel part of the work family, research shows there are financial benefits to reap as well — companies with mature cultures make around 750% more revenue than those without. 

An inclusive workplace culture may result in higher employee engagement and better conflict resolution. Empathetic leaders understand the emotions behind requests and strive to meet employees’ needs. Workers who feel their employer cares about them are more likely to show up, work harder and stay with the company. 

Where Traditional Empathy Training Fails

The face of work looks different than it did before the COVID-19 pandemic. Teams may consist of both remote and in-office workers. A Gallup poll uncovered that around 70% of managers need training in handling a hybrid team. If a verbal argument breaks out on a project management platform, they scramble to figure out how to intervene to lessen the stress.

In addition, building a strong company culture may require additional measures management is uncertain how to implement between work-from-home and return-to-office employees. 

Training that is too abstract to truly benefit leaders or employees may result in a lack of immersion in understanding the needs of others.

How to Tap Into Virtual Reality to Build Inclusiveness

Virtual reality (VR) training taps into neural sensors and creates a remembered experience C-suite executives can apply to real-life situations. Tapping into VR’s powerful technological capabilities is a cost-effective and efficient way to offer empathy training to everyone on the team and build a strong workplace culture that respects and includes everyone.

Even remote workers can take the training when provided with a headset and the appropriate software. Sessions can involve one person at a time so they can make mistakes and learn how to correct them without being embarrassed in front of their peers. 

People may have a prejudice against others because of their demographics or beliefs. Adapting to a work environment where you must respect everyone while still being yourself and sharing your skills with the team requires practice. You’re changing mindsets, and that takes time and life experience. 

1. Create an Immersive Experience

The multiverse is an exciting concept companies are considering for their training needs. Face-to-face interactions let people role-play in a safe space, make mistakes, receive gentle correction and improve with each new scenario. Some VR headsets cost under $500, making them affordable even for smaller companies. 

Donning a VR headset lets the worker step into someone else’s shoes for a while. The system may simulate sounds of rapid breathing or increased heart rate to indicate stress. One of the most effective ways to train empathy is to have the employee be someone from another culture, race or belief system. Let them choose responses and show the physical stress caused by different conversations. 

2. Set Goals

The most effective way to leverage VR to foster an inclusive workplace culture is for leaders to try different solutions before choosing one. The choice that negatively impacts the fewest employees may not be an ideal compromise, but it could satisfy everyone. 

You should also set a few goals for utilizing VR training with the entire team. There are arguments for and against group sessions. At first, it might be wise to have individual training sessions as people learn to be more understanding of others. Once employees improve in empathy training, use group VR sessions to build relationships and strengthen culture to benefit the entire team. 

3. Change Company Culture

Changing an entire brand’s culture takes time. A popular rule of thumb states that it takes 21 days to change a habit. However, only 9% of people met their goals in 2023. Research suggests that individuals build their internal timeline, so one person may reach a goal and develop a new habit in 21 days, while another needs longer. 

Commit to using VR in ongoing training and building company culture toward a more diverse model. One thing you can combine with training is feedback. Anonymous surveys show if there are still issues on the team through the eyes of each individual. They’ll have anonymity and assurance they can voice their concerns without retribution or getting a co-worker into trouble. 

Feedback should never be used to single out workers. Those who don’t embrace the company’s inclusive workplace culture will either move on or out themselves with poor behavior toward others on the team. At that point, leadership can address their struggles and offer interventions to bring them into the same mindset as the rest of the business. 

4. Integrate VR With Existing Programs

You don’t have to throw out all the inclusiveness efforts you currently have. Instead, look for ways to use VR to enhance what you’re doing. Add a VR component where people can practice with the computer in the privacy of their office. You could also offer a remote day where they can complete training at home, get feedback, make changes and try again.

VR is a valuable tool but doesn't replace advice from mentors who’ve traveled the path or company leaders with a vision for what the culture should look like. 

Ongoing Training Is Crucial

People’s view of an inclusive workplace has changed drastically over the last decade. As humans gain new insights and the world changes and becomes more global, expect what works for teams today to need tweaks tomorrow.

Most companies must have ongoing inclusivity training. VR and other technologies can be utilized to flex workers' empathy muscles. Empathizing with co-workers helps people naturally gravitate toward behavior that leads to a healthy company culture.