Betting on the Future with Virtual Reality

By Cliff Stevenson, Principal Analyst, Talent Management and Workforce Management

This week I attended Convergence, Cornerstone’s annual user conference. As someone who attends many events of this type, one of my favorite activities is to wander through the partner and vendor expo hall sections to see what new companies are out there and get a feel for all of the ways different technology providers are working with each other (also, lots of great swag). Usually this is a good time to get a sense for what’s truly going to be the next trends, since spending money to promote a product usually means a lot more than making vague statements about what the future might hold.

In this particular instance, I came across a company I knew from outside of a business context but had never seen with a physical display at one of these conferences: Oculus.

I know Oculus from their VR gaming hardware, the Oculus Rift. Considered one of the premier VR providers, it makes sense they would expand beyond gaming, into the business world, though it was still surprising to see the technology in person so soon.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised, though. The fact that Oculus was in San Diego for Cornerstone Convergence makes sense, as Cornerstone prides themselves on having an extremely robust ecosystem of partners and connected applications to help drive its end-to-end employee experience. And as part of the Brandon Hall Awards program, we see a lot of cutting-edge technology and use cases, including some early adoption of virtual and augmented reality. As far back as 2016, an Indian company called Sify had developed VR apps to help engineers diagnose and train on turbine engines that would have been too expensive to provide everyone unlimited access to, along with features only available in VR such as viewing things at a micro or macro scale. I had previously written about a major hotel chain that uses VR technology to help incoming executive understand the pressures and difficulties of housekeeping duties, and many other companies are making use of VR to improve empathy by simulating experiences that could only happen in VR.

So virtual reality technology and its use isn’t new. But when I mention these examples in presentations or in passing conversations, the follow-up response would inevitably be something along the lines of, “Yeah, but that would never fly at my company.” And honestly, I figured that was probably true. Virtual reality, like AI, Big Data and blockchain technologies, seemed like one of those things that got a lot more lip service than customer service: it looked good on a brochure, but the amount of actual creation and use were very slim. However, if a company like Oculus is jumping in dollars first (the demo I checked out was on anti-bias training, a topic with wide-ranging interest) then it might be time to revisit the timeline on VR, because the future may be here faster than we expected.

Cliff Stevenson, (Twitter: @CliffordDarrell email: Principal Analyst, Talent Management and Workforce Management, Brandon Hall Group

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