January 28, 2021 6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Of the many lessons learned this year, one of the biggest may be the importance of social cohesion. Staying connected with one another and the outside world through technology has been a lifesaver for many people, both personally and professionally. For many businesses, meanwhile, the biggest struggle has been figuring out ways to maintain the in-person strength of that connection with customers and team members.
The most exciting way people have accomplished this is by using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) systems to create physical experiences from the comfort of customers’ homes. Whole Foods, for example, went virtual this year, letting customers browse markets on the Web to get that in-store feel. Other organizations have experimented with ways to hold virtual reality meetings to improve collaboration and team camaraderie.
While the need for social distancing spurred on many of these innovative ways to stay together, this connecting tech was already ready and waiting for companies that were willing to take advantage of them. Advanced technologies such as AR and VR are no longer the sci-fi pipe dreams they once seemed to be. They’re accessible to pretty much anyone with a new smartphone, both on the consumer and developer side.
They’re available to not only major corporations such as Whole Foods but also entrepreneurs and small businesses that are ready to connect in a whole new way. This time should serve as a wake-up call for the entrepreneurs. To survive in the present moment and thrive in the future, organizations need to invest in advanced technologies that will help them stay connected and keep people engaged.
AR and VR help startups stand out
Right now, major tech companies, including Apple, Google and Microsoft, are creating easy ways to develop AR and VR applications through phones and tablets. These companies envision a future where these technologies are commonplace. Why haven’t other businesses seen it yet?
Although a handful of companies including Ikea are using AR products to let customers see how products would look inside their homes, it’s still vastly underused. Startups and small businesses have the opportunity to take advantage of this and use these technologies to differentiate themselves from the competition and improve customer engagement.
The question, then, shouldn’t be whether to invest in these advanced technologies but how best to do it. Here are three ways to fully take advantage of AR, VR and other new technologies.
1. Understand the big picture, then get creative
Many people look at new tech and see an uncertain proposition or even a potential fad. Yet, more often than not, it shows where industries are headed. Companies that experiment with the best technology in existence today secure success in the long term by finding new ways to make the business better and engage customers.
Look for the bigger picture in the emerging technology. For example, the abundance of AR and VR experiential technology demonstrates the importance of experiences to consumers. Apple’s Quick Look feature, for instance, makes it easy for customers to check out products in augmented reality without physically touching the product. In fact, a variety of retailers, including Wayfair and Home Depot, are using this feature. Some take it a step further to include spatial audio, offering the potential for a more immersive customer experience.
Those interactive experiences delight consumers — and that’s the big takeaway. Once you understand what’s connecting most with customers about the emerging technology, you can get scrappy and creative. Experiment to deliver what’s most important and enhance your offerings in the best way possible.
2. Look ahead when incorporating product features
When embracing emerging technologies, it’s crucial to have clear goals in mind. Several years ago, for example, I saw wireless charging in action for the first time and immediately started thinking about how it could fit into our own products, such as our new SmartDesk. It was a feature that no one had been asking for yet, but one that became a major selling point once implemented.
When looking at new tech, analyze how it could contribute to existing products or help create something fresh and new. For example, 5G is still in its relative infancy, but companies that develop IoT (Internet of Things) products, wearables and smart devices should already be thinking about implementing it into new and existing offerings for better connectivity and new features.
3. Boost team productivity and individual workflow
According to a study from Microsoft, of the average 45 hours that employees worked per week, 17 were unproductive. This is a problem for employers and employees, neither of whom wants that much wasted time. It’s also an issue that’s only been exacerbated recently, with more people than ever working remotely.
Not everyone, however, has run into the same problems. Companies that have already implemented AR and VR are better equipped to facilitate collaboration and even train employees without having to be in the same space. Mercedes-Benz, for example, adopted Microsoft’s HoloLens for employee training in 2018, meaning the staff was already well prepared to train in a remote environment.
Emerging technologies such as AR and VR systems can remove the distance between employees and create an immersive environment that lets them collaborate, experiment, train and work with products without ever being near one another. The potential for advanced technologies to improve productivity is major, as long as leaders are willing to give them a try.
The year 2020 was unquestionably an unpredictable one. But the best-performing companies had already been preparing for a future that came faster than anyone expected. Now is the time to invest in AR and VR technology that can help engage customers and keep teams together in the present while also preparing for whatever the future brings.