Is VR Right for Your Business During COVID-19?

Source: pxhere.com

By Priyanka Jhalani
Graduate Editor

Given the unexpected circumstances of the past few months, COVID-19 forced the corporate world to quickly adjust to a work-from-home model with little warning. Given the new normal, the technology that businesses choose to keep their teams connected and productive is becoming even more important. Remote work was already a rising trend before the pandemic began and is likely to remain intact, if not augmented, post-pandemic. In an era that is defined by its revolutionary technological advancements, organizations seeking to keep employees connected will need solutions that work both during and after COVID-19.

Virtual reality (VR) can be an effective way for companies to replicate the face-to-face communication and informal interactions that employees are currently missing out on while working from home. 

Many businesses have invested heavily in designing office spaces that encourage informal interactions and keep employees on-site for longer periods of time, a clear indication of how much corporations value face-to-face interaction. Therefore, not surprisingly, many businesses are looking for solutions to facilitate these in-person interactions without putting their employees at risk of contracting COVID-19. VR offers a better alternative to replicate a face-to-face work environment for employees than only using phone calls and video chats.

#google #io #london #campus #thirdfloor
source

Unlike a video chat or an augmented reality platform (think Snapchat), VR allows people to interact in shared virtual environments and provides the shared context that is a given in most in-person meetings. Sharing an environment creates an immersive experience for users which benefits team bonding. Since these environments are available across a range of VR technologies, including desktop and headset VR, companies with varying VR capabilities can still take advantage of this feature. 

Similarly, avatars and agents (users control avatars while agents are computer generated) give people the feeling that they are “really there” when interacting with others because they can use cues that they normally would in-person like body language and eye contact. One study even found that the presence of avatars made people less likely to behave aggressively and more willing to compromise, which can prove vital for companies with many virtual teams and negotiations. 

Additionally, VR that offers haptic feedback can allow people to shake each other’s hands when meeting for the first time or high-five after accomplishing a task. Although it may seem insignificant or frivolous, touch can be important when building trust and interpersonal relationships, even if it is virtual.  

Finally, VR can reintroduce eye contact and gaze in interpersonal communications, which helps establish and maintain trust. A lack of eye contact can be interpreted as an act of deception and lead to feelings of mistrust, ultimately hurting teams. It is often awkward and difficult to maintain eye contact during standard video conferencing because the user is either looking at the camera, missing the other person’s facial expressions and other non-verbal cues, or looking at the other person, appearing as if they are not making eye contact. 

VR even allows users to go beyond what would be physically possible if individuals were colocated. For example, employees can simultaneously make eye contact with two people, giving each the feeling of being heard and receiving their full attention at the same time. 

VR enables remote team members to form the interpersonal relationships that they normally would in the office by giving employees the opportunity to get to know each other in a way that seems somewhat natural. A likely result of these increased interactions will be that teams perform more effectively and therefore can better contribute to their company’s success.

Aside from strengthening teams, VR is a powerful tool for businesses looking to mitigate the loneliness and quarantine fatigue that their employees are feeling right now. Loneliness in the United States was a pre-pandemic health concern and this crisis has worsened that reality. VR’s immersive nature and ability to mimic in-person communication gives it the potential to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, which can help keep people inside and possibly produce a more emotionally fulfilling work experience. 

A feeling of connectedness is even more important in countries with collectivist cultures. For example, interpersonal relationships are central to many businesses in India, and therefore being able to maintain them while employees work remotely is a priority.

However, virtual reality is not right for all businesses and is not meant to replace all other forms of virtual communication.

VR is best-suited for companies with a highly collaborative, team-based culture and a digitally literate workforce capable of using the technology from home. For these situations in particular, it can be game-changing as companies virtually onboard new employees and form new teams.

Additionally, workforce demographics can heavily shape the context in which companies need to develop VR strategies. While countries like the United States and Japan have aging workforces that are less familiar with technologically-oriented workspaces, India has one of the largest youth populations entering the workforce which could help Indian companies adjust to online business faster. 

Another crucial consideration when constructing a VR strategy is a country’s or company’s digital infrastructure. While India has planned steps to advance digitally, including a government program to build infrastructure to support information and communication technology, Indian companies moving online now may still face issues supporting VR. Alternatively, countries with advanced digital infrastructures like the United States and South Korea are well positioned to implement VR now.
VR
Source

The question of how best to use VR to connect people remains. Answering this question requires further experimentation on the part of researchers and companies. Hypothetically, short intervals of VR usage when employees have the opportunity to interact informally with one another is best. A team bonding event or a few minutes for colleagues to chat before a meeting begins are examples of useful test cases. 

Despite VR’s many pros, there are some cons worth examining. Employees experiencing motion-sickness after a VR experience is a possibility businesses should consider when thinking about using the technology. Unfortunately some VR headsets leave female users with more motion sickness than male users, which is thought to be a result of the interpupillary distance in the hardware being built for males rather than females. Businesses can use desktop VR for the time being to address this issue. As it is, VR headsets are sold out for months and the hardware presents significant initial costs. In the longer term, headset costs are predicted to fall as the technology improves, which would lower the barrier to entry for many firms.

It is worth noting that VR has the potential to “reduce appearance-based judgements” through the use of avatars and may be particularly beneficial for introverted users looking to build relationships. Although there is no consensus on which type of appearance based judgements VR can reduce and by what degree, the possibility of reducing bias in the workplace should be explored. Researchers may consider investigating how using VR affects biases based on beauty, race and/or ability. 

VR provides an excellent opportunity for businesses to recreate face-to-face experiences in the midst of a global pandemic that has left people more isolated. It has the potential to facilitate informal interactions and interpersonal relationships that help teams perform while also reducing social distancing fatigue. The technology is worth considering as firms wade into increasingly uncertain waters. For corporations around the world, VR might just become the new normal.

China, Hong Kong, and Basketball: How One Tweet Started a Firestorm in the NBA

by Nicholas Kishaba

Staff Writer

In March, demonstrations began in the streets of Hong Kong, largely in protest against a bill which would essentially allow the Chinese government to extradite fugitives from regions they do not currently control, such as Taiwan, Macau, and Hong Kong. Since then, Hong Kong City Leader Carrie Lam has agreed to withdraw the bill, however, as protests have increased in both frequency and violence, protesters’ demands have consolidated into a call for democracy. Among other demands such as amnesty for arrested protesters, and an inquiry into police brutality, there are also demands for the resignation for Lam, who is believed by the protesters to be a pawn for Beijing.

Continue reading “China, Hong Kong, and Basketball: How One Tweet Started a Firestorm in the NBA”

European Indians: Germany’s Fetishization of Native American Culture

European Indians: Germany’s Fetishization of Native American Culture

By Nick Vacchio
Staff Writer

When Berlin was liberated at the end of World War II, American soldiers were surprised to find German children familiar with concepts of the Old West. Just like American boys and girls back home, German children could be seen playing imaginative games dressed as Native Americans in deer skin and feathers (“Ich Bin”). Today, the practice continues on an even grander scale with Wild West clubs, festivals, plays and museums dedicated to indigenous American Indian culture captivating the interest of Germans and other Europeans of all ages. It seems strange to think of Europeans being so engulfed and captivated by a particular period of history in which they played no part. The Old West’s past is filled with unique tales and folklore specific to its country of origin: The United States. How Germany became obsessed over a culture they have no connection with whatsoever is a compelling tale with modern ties.

European interest for Indigenous American culture stems from the works of German author, Karl May. Influenced by James Fenimore Cooper’s famous novel The Last of the Mohicans, which depicted the events of the French and Indian War in 1757, May occasionally spent time in prison reading about the Wild West and soon began to pen his own stories. When he was released from prison, May desired to move to America but instead became an editor and eventually the most popular author in German history (Haircrow). His most famous works revolved around an inexperienced German explorer named Old Shatterhand who moved to America and befriended a fictional Apache warrior named Winnetou. May wrote several well-read novels about the duo’s heroic adventures across the Wild West. This helped to support Germanic conceptions of their national identity as well as carve a specific place in their hearts for Native American peoples and their customs (“Ich Bin”).

May’s western stories were all purely fictional. The most ‘western’ place he ever physically set foot in was Buffalo, New York. This is in no way close to his imagined setting of the Great Plains (“Ich Bin”). Despite the lack of historical accuracy, May’s works found their way into the lives of a German people desperate for a role model. Up until his first Winnetou novel was published in the late 1880’s, Germany lacked home-grown literary characters it could identify with and be proud of. During this time, Europe was developing into an industrial capitalist machine. May’s books provided a form of escape from this lifestyle and had significant influence on both Albert Einstein as well as Adolf Hitler (“Ich Bin”). In 1987, Author Frederic Morton summed up the famous writer’s impact stating, “The legendary in Karl May’s books saturated (and still saturates) just about every Central European boyhood,” (Morton).

Today, May’s works continue to leave their impact on central European culture. Ever since the 1950s, the Karl May Festival has taken place in the town of Bad Segeberg. The festival lasts for the course of the summer and includes a fantasized Indian village set in the era when May’s stories take place. The real draw to the festival though is the yearly play which is derived from one of May’s many stories about Old Shatterhand and Winnetou. Last years festival season brought in a total of 346,677 people which set a record for the third consecutive year (“Treasure of Silver Lake”). But May’s posthumously successful festival is not the only place where Germany celebrates the Native American way of life.

Many Germans are participants in this imagined and fetishized Native American lifestyle. There are Wild West theme parks such as El Dorado which are popular vacation spots complete with saloon, Indian village, wooden fort, and everything else that comes to mind when thinking about the traditional imagery associated with cowboys and Indians. For those who are more serious about getting in touch with their “inner Native American,” there are over 400 clubs where members pay dues so they can pretend to be American Indians. Pow-wows are hosted throughout the year by Caucasians in native dress and some people even take up the art of making leather gifts and additional knick knacks. Others learn to shoot a bow and arrow, ride horses, play drums, and dance in the way they imagine Natives did hundreds of years ago. Participants in these activities sometimes refer to themselves as rote Indianer or red Indians and give one another traditional fantasized names like White Wolf or Old Bull. Some even go one step further and head out into the countryside for the weekend to set up a tipi campground. There, they adorn themselves in the furs of various animals, cook meals on an open flame, and discuss what it truly means to be Native American (Haircrow). They are, of course, not actually Native Americans, which has left more than a few members of indigenous tribes in the United States and Canada offended.

Some German Indian hobbyists believe that they are keeping the true spirit of Native American culture alive. They look down on the actual Natives who struggle with poverty or alcoholism and do not seem to appreciate their own unique customs (Haircrow). However, as part Apache and Cherokee, Red Haircrow notes that this harmless fantasization is anything but:

They have not lived with the centuries of oppression, racism and genocide, part of which is still on-going for Native Americans, and the others we are still trying to recover from. Fantasize about being raped, murdered or having your family, your children raped and murdered in front of you. Losing your homes, your land. Being taken away from your family. (“Pretendians”)

Essentially, it is unfair for a group to embrace the positive aspects of a particular culture without experiencing the pain and misery that also come through being a member of that particular culture. You cannot have the good without the bad. It is also hurtful in a further sense because the genocide of Native Americans came at the hands of the white man.

Despite these negative opinions, not everyone thinks that this cultural appropriation is harmful. Some Natives living in Germany as well as North America find the deep interest in themselves and their culture flattering. This profound intrigue into Native American culture has led tribes to get in touch with some of their fans overseas. Groups like the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association promote and educate receptive audiences in their customs including history, art, food, and dance (Haircrow). Central Europeans are desperate to hear authentic stories from real Natives instead of the books, plays, and movies cemented in a time no longer relevant to modernity.

Whether one sees Indian hobbyists in Europe as offensive and distorting the image of what it means to truly be Native American or as a benign practice and surprising blend of two distinct cultures is a debate that is not going away anytime soon. However, there should be a consensus that it is healthy and beneficial to get away from industrial, commercialized and capitalistic society every now and again to get back to our roots as a global population. Attempting to connect deeper spiritually, taking care of the environment, forming close bonds within a community and appreciating what it truly means to be a human being on this planet are things that seem to be easily forgotten in our fast-paced and disconnected modern society. These core pillars are still prevalent in Native American culture and it might be wise that we explore them more deeply.

Works Cited

Haircrow, Red. “Germany’s Obsession with American Indians is Touching – And Occasionally Surreal.” Indian Country. Todaymedianetwork.com, 23 Mar. 2013. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.

“Ich Bin Ein Cowboy.” The Economist. People.uwec.edu, 24 May 2001. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

Morton, Frederic. “Tales of the Grand Teutons: Karl May Among the Indians.” The New York Times. Nytimes.com, 4 Jan. 1987. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

“Pretendians: Why Offensive to Indigenous as a Whole.” Songs of the Universal Vagabond. Redhaircrow.com, 7 Nov. 2015. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

“Treasure of Silver Lake.” Karl May Spiele. Karl-may-speile.de, 2015. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.

Image by Julius Beckmann