Your next piece of work-at-home equipment might be virtual reality goggles

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If remote working, remote hiring, remote on-boarding are all here to stay, could virtual reality be far behind. That’s what people at Accenture are trying to find out. Joining the Federal Drive with Tom Temin with details, Accenture’s executive director for global talent, Allison Horn. And Accenture Federal Services’ chief innovation officer, Kyle Michl.

Interview transcript:
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Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

If remote working, remote hiring, remote on-boarding are all here to stay, could virtual reality be far behind. That’s what people at Accenture are trying to find out. Joining the Federal Drive with Tom Temin with details, Accenture’s executive director for global talent, Allison Horn. And Accenture Federal Services’ chief innovation officer, Kyle Michl.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Ms. Horn, good to have you on.

Allison Horn: Thanks for having me. Happy to be here.

Tom Temin: And Accenture federal services Chief Innovation Officer, Kyle Michl. Mr. Michl, good to have you on.

Kyle Michl: Thanks for having me as well.

Tom Temin: Now Accenture has bought quite a quantity of headsets for virtual reality. What are you doing with them?

Allison Horn: I’ll be happy to take that one. So yes, we have purchased 60,000 headsets for virtual reality. And we have even way more than that of people who are accessing virtual reality through their computers today. We are using them for all kinds of things including learning, onboarding, collaboration and even employee wellness in the metaverse.

Tom Temin: And let’s talk about onboarding for a moment because so many people are being onboarded or joining outfits, organizations, companies, federal agencies, without going there in person or even seeing their new employer or supervisor in person. How does virtual reality enhance that? What do they see and hear when they put that thing on?

Allison Horn: So much of virtual onboarding today is taking place through platforms like zoom or Microsoft Teams and, and we’re using that as well. So as our people come in for two days, they are spending some time with us on Teams. They’re spending time in large groups. They’re spending time in small breakouts, but they’re also spending time in the metaverse. So they’ll join us for a couple of hours through one of these more, you know, today’s traditional platforms before we will bring them into what we call One Accenture Park, which is our always open, always available, virtual reality onboarding campus. And they’ll come in there, they’ll play some learning games to learn a little bit more about who we are and what we do. And then they can explore the various exhibits that we have set up that just help them to learn a little bit more about what to expect as they start their next phase of their career with Accenture.

Tom Temin: So there’s a lot of background work that has to happen to create these. And you mentioned Metaverse, that’s a trade name of Facebook or Facebook is Metaverse. But is that the actual place that you’re doing this in?

Allison Horn: So we think of the metaverse and this concept even of a metaverse continuum as the next phase of the internet. This is where we’re going with respect to how we interact, how we interact virtually and how we interact through these new mediums. So you may hear or you may have seen us talk in the past about something called Accenture’s nth floor. That is the name for our Accenture metaverse. And then within that Accenture metaverse are all kinds of different worlds that we’re using for all kinds of different reasons, including One Accenture Park, which is where onboarding happens,

Tom Temin: But no cappuccino machines.

Allison Horn: Oh, there are absolutely cappuccino machines. There is even a coffee store in One Accenture park called Global Coffee that everybody visits through their journey.

Tom Temin: Well, I won’t ask you to comment how it tastes through an Oculus headset. And Kyle, are you watching this from the Accenture Federal Services standpoint to see how you might translate these learnings into advice for federal agencies?

Kyle Michl: Absolutely. And we’ve been looking and working in the metaverse for a number of years and extended reality, or XR capabilities is something that we’ve been looking at Accenture Federal, but so are the federal agencies and our customers today. For example, in our federal studio, we’ve got a number of XR experiences. For years, we’ve been bringing customers through to look at immersive learning, collaboration, digital work and even the use of digital twins for what if scenarios and operations, it’s really a great way to kind of look at the realm of the possible. And it’s been exciting in the last year or two as the technology has really advanced and made a lot of what we might be able to do in the future be what we can do today and now.

Tom Temin: And just a detail question. You can present the nth floor any way that you choose to have a design that appear to people, how do they establish how they appear to everybody else that’s in the metaverse. Say I’m a new employee. Do I look like some kind of an anime character or what?

Allison Horn: Yeah, I’ll be happy to take that. So this space of creating your own avatar is a really interesting one. Because the ethics and you know, the overall acceptable use of avatars and so forth is an evolving space. And we’re just like everybody else figuring it out as we go. So we give our people instructions on how to create avatars and yes, just like you’re seeing most avatars today in 2022, they are cartoon like characters. Most of them don’t have legs. Most of them don’t have elbows. It’s you know, what you’ve seen through a lot of the different, you know, media out there. And we’ve really tried to encourage our people to represent themselves how they want to in the world, if they want to represent themselves as coming from a different background, if they want to represent themselves as a different gender than perhaps they represent themselves in the physical worlds, you know, we’re really trying to push the envelope there and say show up as you want to, because this is a really important time and space to be making sure that you’re able to truly bring your whole self to work. And that includes the metaverse.

Tom Temin: But as the employer, there’s got to be bounds for what people can do to show themselves or represent themselves?

Allison Horn: For sure, for sure. And we are very careful and very consistent and very comprehensive. And reminding all of our people that our code of business ethics and our core values, which are very much alive in the real world, transcend to the virtual worlds as well.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Allison Horn, and she’s executive director for global talent at Accenture. And with Kyle Michl, he’s the chief innovation officer at Accenture Federal Services. And Kyle, I wanted to ask you, what can a federal agency based on the Accenture experience, expect to have to do as foundational work, so that when you present a virtual world or a metaverse to prospective employees or existing employees, that it’s tasteful, that it’s useful and that it’s something acceptable to the number of people that will be in there?

Kyle Michl: It’s a great question. And you know, we did research in the last year or two and saw that nearly 86% of federal executives surveyed said that by 2026, extended reality, or the metaverse is going to be very or extremely important to meeting mission needs. And today, I think it’s upwards of 75% feel that way. So this is something that absolutely federal agencies are thinking about. And so in terms of the prep, one of the things that we really encourage agencies and folks working in this space to do is to make sure they’ve tried out a headset, make sure they’ve tried the experience, because oftentimes, if you haven’t ever been in a headset, or if you’ve never been in a metaverse, you may have a perception of what that is. But until you really get in there and have the opportunity to experience it, you may not understand the potential use cases to apply to. And then I think really importantly, to follow that is to make sure that you think about well, what’s the end in mind with an understanding of what the technology capabilities are. What are you trying to accomplish, we don’t want technology for technology’s sake, what we want to do is improve the experiences for our people, for the agencies, for the citizens that we’re serving, and so forth. So it’s really important, we start with an end in mind, but then it’s OK, this is a new technology, it’s evolving. So let’s pilot, let’s try, let’s you know, look at use cases, whether it be collaboration, whether it be learning, whether it be digital worker, etc. Figure out the best use case and try it out. And that’s where I think it’s really important to be able to feel comfortable, understand the technology enough. But don’t wait and wait and wait. Because you need to get in there and experience it to really understand what you can do with these types of technologies.

Tom Temin: And at this point in the history of all of this, which is pretty new, do you envision it being something that employees would engage in episodically, that is to say, you wouldn’t spend your entire working day of eight, nine, 10 hours in the headset, if you’re creating a document or if you just need to make a phone call, then you would be mostly out of it. And it would just be there for training or specific tasks or meetings?

Kyle Michl: Maybe I’ll start now turn over to Allison, she’s got a point of view here as well. I mean, anyone’s worn a headset for an extended period of time. But there’s a comfort and a battery level and a number of things that come into play. So right now, it’s definitely episodic, where you’re going to use it for certain events, and so forth. I think when you look at virtual reality where you’re immersed 100% in that virtual world, that’s going to be something where you’re going to do that in pockets, as there’s more and more capabilities that are coming with augmented reality, which is bringing in digital capabilities into our space, there might be some scenarios where you might be able to go longer or use it for different use cases. But I think that’s going to change over time. And so that’s where I went back to right now. It’s finding those optimized use cases, those concise periods of time where you can get that high value, maybe that interaction that you can’t do because you’re remote, and taking advantage of the technology to solve those.

Tom Temin: All right, and the meeting experience in the metaverse. I mean, the meeting experience in the video platforms is kind of like Hollywood Squares. There’s a three by six array of people all talking and some people are chewing, some people are looking away, some people are petting their dogs, whatever the case might be. Is it different in the metaverse? I’m asking because I’ve never put one of those things on in my life.

Allison Horn: Yeah, it’s really different. And I think that’s, you know, goes right back to what Kyle was saying, when you think about this whole space, it is so important to just try it because once you try it, and whether you’re trying it because you’re experiencing a game or a meeting or a social session, whatever it may be, you’ll really get a sense of why this is different. The metaverse, right, virtual reality gives us the opportunity to bring forward this sense of presence, that again, the Zooms the Teams, the video conferencing and so forth simply can’t. It allows you to do things like actually have side conversations with people. Kyle can talk in just a sec about you know the benefits of spatial audio and what that means and why that’s important. But there are a number of things like that in virtual reality that give you that sense of being there. Being with other people that is very different than Zoom and Teams and such. Kyle, do you want to talk a little bit about the spatial audio piece?

Kyle Michl: I do. Thanks. Because I think it’s one that really surprises people when you get into these experiences for the first time. So part of it is, there’s many new dimensions for people, depending on what experience you have the first of which is the 3D immersion of it. But the spatial audio is when it maybe doesn’t come to mind until you’re in the experience. And so spacial audio means if I’m in a large room, and I’m speaking, those that are near me, I sound loud. Just think about a regular room if we were all together, but on the farthest distance away, maybe you can’t hear me or it’s very faint. Or if there’s hundreds of people in the room, you got that chatter, but you can’t really make out what’s going on. So you have the benefit, unlike a Teams session, or a Zoom session, where you have to wait, it’s very serial, right? I need to wait for Allison to stop speaking before I speak, if I’m going to speak to you. Whereas in the spatial audio scenario I can move to be whomever I want to speak to. And with that spatial awareness, I can speak to those around me and those closest to me can hear what I’m saying, and so forth. So it really mimics the real world environment, I think adds a powerful dimension for how you can interact and collaborate.

Tom Temin: Sounds like what they used to call surround sound, but that still exists anymore. And finally, what are some of the safety and security issues, both physically because we’ve all seen the videos of people smashing into their TV sets while thrashing around with a headset on? And also the issues of possible harassment or untoward behavior that can happen between two people, and it’s in meta space? And nobody’s recording it? Or are they?

Allison Horn: Sure. So I’ll start with that. Let’s start with the safety pieces. So when you put a headset on, and when you’re engaged in one of these virtual worlds, there’s this concept of a guardian or a boundary that you set up, you get to actually draw what is my safe space to be able to walk left, right, front, center and so forth. And the technology is so much better today than even it was, let’s say, 12 to 18 months ago, if you walk out of that boundary, your view is just the normal world in front of you, you lose the virtual world, you’re back in the physical world. So that’s been a huge step up. And that’s a hugely important piece to kind of understand as you go from, you know, thinking about how this works in real life.

When we talk about just some of the dangers that are out there. The dangers that are out there in the metaverse are the same dangers that are out there in the internet. It’s just a different form and a different potential level of intensity because of the immersive nature, because of the sense of presence. And as you can imagine, at Accenture, we have all kinds of listening capabilities. We have all kinds of advisory capabilities, we have all kinds of things in place to ensure that our code of business ethics and our core values reign supreme, again in our virtual worlds as well. But it is an emerging space. So we’re all learning as we go. And you know, we’re making sure that we’re sharing everything that we’re learning here with our communities and with our clients going forward.

Tom Temin: Then Kyle, is it possible for monitors to exist inside of the metaverse? Might be a human monitor, or it might be an electronic monitor to make sure certain key phrases, key words, attitudinal types of things don’t happen.

Kyle Michl: I mean, so just like the internet, I think that’s the way to think about it, right? On the internet, you know, you have a search history, you have, you know, people can look at what sites you visited, and so forth. I think using that as an analogy is the same way to think about the metaverse, the same types of considerations for what you do on the internet, you have certain behaviors, you know, for business, if I go on a website, there are certain websites that I can visit for work that are safe to work and there are certain websites that are unsafe for work. Likewise, in the metaverse, there’s certain behaviors and activities that are safe for work and certain behaviors that are unsafe for work. So I mean, thinking about the fact that your business code of ethics is followed, that it’s well understood by all employees is really important. And then recognizing that in any type of electronic medium, there is typically an audit trail of some kind of what you’ve done and what you’re doing that you need to be conscious of.

Tom Temin: And Allison, what I wanted to also ask you is what has been the acceptance of this in terms of demographics? Is there a male/female breakdown in how people adapt to this? Is there an age related component to it? What have you learned so far?

Allison Horn: What we have learned is that we haven’t found one yet, right? So we of course, went into this with an assumption, based on you know, just stereotypes and instinct that said, oh our younger or more junior employees are going to be all over this. Our more tenured or more senior employees are probably going to be really hard to pull into this. We have not seen any evidence of that whatsoever, which is actually really exciting. We have junior people that are awkward and uncomfortable in there, we have senior people who like get it and are, you know, really great ambassadors of the space all over the place. And I’ll tell you the feedback, you know, whether we’ve looked country to country, gender to gender, you know, age tenure, etc. The feedback is just resounding across all of our populations.

Tom Temin: And Kyle, who should own this, say in an agency setting? I mean, there’s a technical component to it that’s very big, but the content is not really part of the CIO function. So what do you envision as the governance in the creation and operation of these virtual spaces?

Kyle Michl: I think it’s one that you know, we’re as we looked at just technology overall, right? Every business and every agency is having to become more and more of a technology business and the convergence of functional and technology together is a big part of it. I think the metaverse is no exception to that. So there’s a role for the CIO function to play, of course, and enabling that in a secure and efficient way. And then there’s clearly a role for the business. And in this case, there’s a creative aspect and potentially a marketing aspect of it as well, that needs to converge in order to, you know, optimize what you can do in these spaces. So really depends upon the use case. But it’s clear in almost all, well not in all use cases that you’re gonna have to converge a set of capabilities across an agency to do that effectively.

Tom Temin: And any good anecdotes, anything happened good or bad that you’ve seen in one of these spaces to let us know what to encourage and what to discourage?

Allison Horn: Tom, I wish we had five hours that we could share our anecdotes across all these different places and spaces. But I’ll just share a very general one, which is, there is a moment and you can feel it, you can see it when someone comes into virtual reality, when they come into one of these virtual worlds. After they get through just a few minutes of how do I move? How do I turn around where you just see them get it. And all of a sudden movements become really natural, and people start to really understand how you turn your physical presence to someone when they’re speaking to you. And it’s really exciting. I mean, I’ve had the opportunity to see it now hundreds of times over and it doesn’t get old. It’s a pretty magical moment.

Tom Temin: Kyle, any final thoughts?

Kyle Michl: Yeah, I want to maybe build on what Allison was saying is the experience. And I’ll maybe bridge together the concept of the collaboration and some of the immersive learning where we’re going through training and the environment, the ability to have, you know, that emotive response because you’re so immersed in the environment, because you’re getting experiences that you couldn’t get in either a training scenario or in a collaboration scenario, it’s an incredible thing to watch. I think what you have is, that’s why the training effectiveness is so high in this space. That’s why the ability to kind of collaborate is so much greater than you see otherwise, is because it’s such a real aspect of the work that comes to bear. And you can see that how people react not only in terms of enthusiasm, excitement, but in some cases, it could be an emotional reaction or a specific reaction to the type of training that they’re going through. And I think that’s the power here. It taps into more than just one sense of the human body and brings it all together in a new and immersive way.

Tom Temin: So we have a new science here. You might call it metaquette.

Allison Horn: Love it.

Tom Temin: All right. Allison horn is executive director for global talent at Accenture. Kyle Michl is chief innovation officer at Accenture Federal Services. Great having you both on.

Allison Horn: Great to be here. Thanks for having us.

Kyle Michl: Thanks, Tom. This is great.

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