Faced with the challenge of onboarding thousands of employees remotely, global professional services company Accenture harnessed its technological capabilities to welcome new hires via the metaverse.
The first day at any new job can be a nerve-racking affair. New faces, new systems, new coffee machines. Getting to grips with the culture of a workplace takes time and, more importantly, a helping hand from an efficient onboarding process.
When the pandemic struck, businesses faced the challenge of helping new hires learn the ropes without face-to-face interaction, get to know their colleagues without meeting them and settle into the workplace without setting foot in it. As a result, many recruits faced the prospect of long, energy-draining back-to-back video calls packed with information they would struggle to take in.
Knowing how critical the first few days of the employee experience can be, global professional services company Accenture found a way to ensure that new hires didn’t miss out on key experiences – by recreating them in the metaverse.
“The metaverse has been an emerging technology for a couple of years, and the real impetus for us to lean into it was the pandemic and the fact that we needed to start onboarding all of our people virtually,” says Sarah Kruger, Accenture’s Head of HR for Australia and New Zealand.
“We wanted to create an interactive experience that enabled people to retain what they were learning more effectively, and that gave employees the opportunity to feel like they were getting to know people.”
When a new hire starts at Accenture, they enter a virtual campus where their onboarding journey begins. Here, they will create an avatar of themselves which can be personalised down to their clothes, hair colour and body shape.
Their avatar is led by a guide down a passageway and into a vast, dome-shaped virtual room with a waterfall cascading from the ceiling, surrounded by training stations and social areas dotted with the avatars of their new colleagues.
This expansive virtual campus, known as One Accenture Park, is one of many spaces in Accenture’s Nth Floor metaverse. It’s a surreal and highly engaging environment filled with secret rooms, expansive views and even a zip-line experience that makes you feel as if you’re flying.
Haven’t got time to read the whole article? Here is a summary of some of the key points:
- Global professional services company Accenture has created its own virtual training experience for new hires in the metaverse.
- The interactive training activities on offer in the metaverse allowed Accenture to improve retention of learnings by 33 per cent.
- Research suggests that by 2026, a quarter of the world’s population could spend up to an hour each day in the metaverse.
Exploring Accenture’s metaverse
When I heard about the possibilities of One Accenture Park, I knew I had to see it first-hand in order to truly understand the employees’ experiences. I headed to Accenture’s Sydney office to explore the metaverse for the first time.
After putting on my virtual reality (VR) headset and getting familiar with my new digital hands, I entered the park and met my guides – two Accenture employees, as avatars, logging into the virtual campus from Melbourne.
I was shown how to move around with my controllers and even ‘teleport’ long distances between the attractions in the park.
My guides led me through attractions such as ‘leadership mountain’, which employees can ascend while learning the pillars of effective management. From there, we took a virtual zip-line back to the bottom floor – which felt like I was actually flying through the air – and progressed to the wellbeing centre, a room designed to look like the night sky, scattered with twinkling stars.
As they explore the park, employees undergo various training exercises such as a simulated group problem-solving activity based on a fictitious client challenge. These digitally designed activities not only aid knowledge retention, but also allow Accenture to ensure that the quality of its onboarding processes is consistent.
Detailed virtual replicas of Accenture’s global offices are also available for new employees to explore. These digital buildings will be used after they complete the onboarding process to hold virtual meetings and conferences with their clients.
The park’s designers have taken every opportunity to gamify the experience and inject fun and variety into the learning process. For instance, my tour of the park included a visit to the ‘phishing pier’, where employees are taught to recognise cybersecurity risks.
When we visited the pier, I was so excited by the sight of dolphins jumping around in the water that I walked too close to the edge of the pier and ‘fell’ in (yes, apparently you can make stupid mistakes in the metaverse too).
This particular training activity was designed to make a traditionally dry and confusing subject more accessible, says Kruger.
“We asked ourselves, ‘How do we create content in a course that helps people understand how easy it is to be phished, and the risks associated with it?’ We turned it into a game where people are learning in a virtual environment; you sit on a pier, and you have fish flying at you.”
Changing perceptions of metaverse experiences
Unsurprisingly, Kruger says that donning a VR headset and entering the metaverse on a Monday morning is something that feels more natural to some new hires than others.
“The younger people are, the more excited they are about it,” she says. “They’re more used to the gaming environment, and a lot of them have been operating in those types of worlds for a while now.”
In a survey of AHRI members, HRM discovered that almost half (45 per cent) said they were excited about the prospect of using the metaverse for work purposes. Around one in five (19 per cent) said they were uncomfortable with the idea, while the remaining 36 per cent were either somewhat apprehensive or had no strong feelings about it.
However, in Kruger’s experience with people who are apprehensive about virtual reality, it’s not long before the benefits begin to speak for themselves.
In fact, since the program was rolled out at Accenture, the response from participants has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Sometimes people wonder if it’s worth all the hype, but broadly speaking, once people get to experience it, they agree that it’s valuable and worthwhile. We have a feedback rating of 4.7 out of five, which is really hard to get.
“We’ve also seen greater levels of knowledge retention. When people are in an immersive environment, there’s a 33 per cent improvement to retention of learnings from the training they’re involved in. And the more people can retain when they’re learning, the more people feel connected to the organisation they’re a part of.”
Enriching virtual communication
When Ben Kirkwood, Sustainability Strategy Senior Manager at Accenture, began his metaverse onboarding journey, he was struck most by the ability to socialise virtually in a way that would be impossible on a video call.
“You can see where people are looking, so if you’re talking to somebody in a group, you know that person is listening to you,” he says. “The inherent ability to gauge when people are engaging in a conversation or not is a major positive.”
The sound engineering in the metaverse also enables users to hear noises only when their avatar is near the source – for instance, the pouring sound of the waterfall grows louder as your avatar moves towards it. This gives employees the chance to have richer communication experiences.
“You can have several groups of people in a room, and because of the spatial awareness that’s inherent in the metaverse, you can easily walk between groups and the conversations don’t block each other out,” says Kirkwood.
Balancing real and virtual experiences
Those who are skeptical of virtual reality and the metaverse often cite the fear that humanity is in danger of being lost in a world of avatars, simulations and games.
For Accenture, keeping this concern from turning into a reality means finding a balance between work in and outside the virtual environment.
Now that lockdowns have ended, the company has retained the metaverse experience in its onboarding process and beyond, also taking the opportunity to bring some face-to-face moments back into the mix.
“We’ve got a very clear strategy around our back-to-office campaigns, and we are encouraging our people to utilise opportunities to come together and share information, do some training and form connections,” says Kruger.
“The way we use the metaverse will continue to evolve. We will get to a point where there’ll be times where we physically come together, and there’ll be times where we go into the metaverse and do things virtually.”
“Sometimes people wonder if it’s worth all the hype. But broadly speaking, once people get to experience it, they agree that it’s valuable and worthwhile.” – Sarah Kruger, Accenture’s Head of HR for Australia and New Zealand.
“We need to show that just because they’re in a gaming environment, it doesn’t mean the same principles around treating people respectfully and interacting appropriately don’t exist.”
While it may take some time for training in the metaverse to become common practice, the transition might be coming faster than many people think.
Earlier this year, Gartner released a report predicting that by 2026, at least a quarter of the world’s population will spend up to an hour each day in the metaverse to shop, play games, attend events and work.
Interestingly, AHRI’s survey revealed that HR professionals were less likely to be excited about using the metaverse for gaming, shopping and socialising than they were about using it for work; a third of respondents (34 per cent) were looking forward to doing these activities in the metaverse, compared to the 45 per cent who were excited to use it for work.
While the survey indicated mixed perceptions of the metaverse, there was one issue that was agreed on by almost all respondents: 96 per cent said that HR professionals need to be involved in conversations about the metaverse. For Kruger, this is a no-brainer.
“HR needs to understand the metaverse so they can help guide their organisation in adopting it, and help their people get used to it and get on board with it,” she says.
“We have an emerging workforce, and people who are in younger generations want to work in these sorts of environments. We’re also in a situation where we have to reskill one billion people before 2030 – that’s an eighth of the population that needs reskilling, which is pretty dramatic.”
Factors such as climate change and accessibility are also increasing the pressure to adopt interactive remote learning and communication strategies.
“We need alternative ways to upskill,” says Kruger. “HR needs to be on the front line when it comes to advising businesses on the best way to evolve, the new skills that are emerging and how they get their existing workforces there.”
Need help balancing virtual and in-person training? Discover new ways to make your hybrid work model more effective with AHRI’s short course.