The unlikely ways companies are using VR to connect people and offer disadvantaged youth better opportunities

HiltonA Hilton team member uses the VR system.

Virtual reality can be used for more than just gaming: The technology can help break down real-life barriers and help us connect.

VR has the potential to change the way companies conduct empathy training and recruit underrepresented groups, and Hyatt, Fidelity, and Hilton are three major players that are paving the virtual road for others.

Business Insider spoke with leaders at these companies to map out how they’re using VR for social good.

External initiatives: VR for disadvantaged youth

Mark Hoplamazian, the CEO of Hyatt, said his goal was to hire 10,000 young people from disadvantaged backgrounds by 2025. VR is part of his strategy to bring in potential recruits who may have never stepped foot in a hotel, let alone understand how it operates.

“We actually created a virtual reality video,” Hoplamazian told Business Insider. “You can put a VR headset on and actually walk through a hotel and understand, see what it’s like to be in the back of the house. We call it the heart of the house, to understand how a hotel functions, what it looks like, how people interact with each other.”

Hyatt’s VR initiative was developed to dispel any misconceptions about what life inside a hotel is like for potential hires.

“They can actually go through a day in the life of different entry-level roles with this VR experience to see what a housekeeper does, what a steward does, which is very cool,” Hoplamazian said.

He was inspired to recruit youth from disadvantaged backgrounds because of what he’s seen from doing business around the world, and his own personal background growing up in Chicago.

“A lot of people who are now in senior positions in this industry started in the most menial of entry-level positions and grew over time, including a couple of CEOs,” Hoplamazian pointed out. “My observation is that we have the ability to actually have a big impact in the world by helping to put those people who are either disadvantaged or from disadvantaged backgrounds and who are out of work and give them a path.”

Building internal empathy among Hilton’s employees

Hilton’s use of VR also involves giving people a look inside the inner workings of hospitality – but this hotel megachain differentiates itself from Hyatt with an internal target.

Hilton has a VR training for corporate employees who already work for the company. Eighty per cent of corporate hires don’t have previous hospitality experience – yet they’re tasked with making decisions to support frontline employees, Gretchen Stroud, the vice president of talent development and team-member engagement at Hilton, told Business Insider.

“We were looking for an option that did not take them out of their roles for a significant time, and that did not place operational burden on our hotels,” she said.

Using a VR simulation, corporate employees go through different hotel departments, including housekeeping, engineering, kitchens, and the front desk, completing tasks like cleaning a room. The program launched as a pilot last year.

“In the six months since launching the program, more than 1,200 people have participated in the training, 87% of whom said the experience gave them more empathy and appreciation for the work our hotel team members do every day,” Stroud said.

The immersion has since been rolled out to Hilton’s six global corporate offices and has become part of the onboarding requirements for corporate employees to complete within their first year.

Customer-facing empathy at Fidelity

Extending empathy from the office to customers, Fidelity created an empathy-training program in 2018 for employees who interact with customers that call the contact centre. The team went from idea to implementation in about three months, Adam Schouela, the vice president of the research and development unit Fidelity Labs, told Business Insider.

The VR experience is meant to help new contact-centre employees understand the perspective of customers calling in. The program boomerangs the employee between a virtual office and the home of a caller, giving the recruit a crucial point-of-view glance from both sides of the phone.

Schouela compared the customer-satisfaction scores of the associates who went through VR training with those who didn’t, and the positive results convinced him to expand the pilot.

“The idea is not just to do this because it’s cool,” Schouela said. “The idea is where is this technology going to displace technology that we’re using today.”

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.