The flexibility offered by “going virtual” isn’t a simple goal for organizations whose success heavily depends on human connectivity. While two-dimensional video calls and messaging tools have become the new norm for employee collaboration, organizations still struggle to facilitate the levels of attention and immersion that traditional, in-person interactions provide. Simulating the chatter that organically happens in a breakroom, a cluster of cubicles or an office hallway can be difficult.
Over the years, BPM has cultivated a large “Virtual Region.” This region now houses over 45% of the Firm’s colleagues, who are located across the United States, Canada and other international hubs and are able to work fully remotely. While some employers are changing their protocols in the post-pandemic environment and retracting their previous commitment to remote work, BPM remains committed to growth and colleague flexibility. However, the Firm still faces challenges inherent to remote work.
So, how do firms like BPM bring back the feeling of being in the same space without physically doing so? Enter virtual reality (VR) and the Metaverse – a means to restore a sense of “togetherness” in this new era of work. With the introduction of the extended reality (XR) platform Arthur Technologies, BPM decided to explore VR’s potential using Arthur’s Virtual Office solution, learning about how the technology could enhance core business areas. In this interview, we sit down with four key members from BPM’s Metaverse Project team to learn about the journey into VR adoption at the Firm.
- Edward Webb – Advisory Partner, Virtual Region Partner-in-Charge
- Andre Shevchuck – Tax Advisory Partner, Bay Area Region Partner-in-Charge
- Heather Esposito – Learning and Development Director
- Mo Yassin – Assurance Senior
Phase 1: Identifying VR’s Perfect Fit
When it comes to corporate workplaces, VR technology has a wide array of uses, ranging from holding one-off meetings and trainings in the Metaverse to building a full-scale interactive office space. A big challenge for organizations can be to identify how VR fits into their existing operational structure and strategy.
Q: What was the very beginning of the VR exploration process like for BPM, and how did the team figure out where VR would fit in the organization?
Andre: At the outset, we didn’t have a clear mandate. We understood that virtual reality technology was out there and that some firms were starting to use it. We didn’t want to be left behind, especially if we could bring its benefits to BPM. The Metaverse Project group started as a pilot with about six initial members. Through a very iterative process of meetings, training and trials, we got more and more comfortable with Arthur’s technology and manipulating virtual environments to the point where we could comfortably invite other BPM colleagues to join us. Through that experience, we generated the idea for onboarding as a good application for the technology.
Phase 2: Integrating VR into Onboarding
A 2020 PwC survey highlights that VR learners are four times more focused than e-learning peers and 275% more confident to apply skills learned after training. Additionally, Arthur survey results show that 75% of new recruits surveyed agreed that VR onboarding felt more personal than video conferencing. Based on colleague feedback, would we feel like this was the case at BPM?
Mo: Yes. In July 2023, the Learning and Development team successfully onboarded approximately 15 new tax associates over three weeks. The Metaverse facilitated a more engaging and interactive onboarding process by capturing the undivided attention of our colleagues, contributing to a more effective orientation experience. They particularly appreciated the freedom to traverse virtual spaces, engage in meaningful roundtable discussions and conduct private conversations.
A notable observation was that associates engaged in side conversations, a phenomenon rarely possible during conventional virtual meetings. Within the Metaverse, we can have multiple groups coexisting in a virtual space, and thanks to the spatial awareness inherent to this technology, individuals can seamlessly move between groups without disrupting ongoing discussions.
Q: Reflecting back on the beginning of the VR integration process, were BPM’s goals for the technology achieved?
Heather: Yes. BPM’s new associates were very impressed that we incorporated VR technology and a branded BPM Metaverse experience into their onboarding. We noticed that colleagues were opening up more about their fears and concerns with each other in the Metaverse. I attribute some of this openness to the sense of “protection” that comes with expressing oneself through an avatar, which is not easily achieved in traditional video conferencing tools. Overall, we were able to deliver unique learning experiences that would be challenging to replicate without VR. The best example is a workshop where new colleagues built a visual 3-D representation of their personal brand using objects in the Metaverse.
Q: How was Arthur and the Arthur Virtual Office solution able to help BPM with creating its VR onboarding process?
Andre: We started with a self-hosted environment, which we found to be very cumbersome and counter-intuitive to the point that it seemed impossible to use. However, one pilot team member discovered Arthur’s consulting services coupled with their hosted environments. The more we used the technology, the more we could see the benefits of Arthur’s support.
Phase 3: Looking Ahead
The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracked a steep decline in weekday socialization and communication from 2020 to 2022 while a recent Gallup survey notes that fully remote workers who feel a connection to the purpose of their organization fell from 37% in 2020 to 28% in 2023. Meanwhile, Buffer’s 2023 State of Remote Work report shows that 98% of remote working respondents would like to continue working remotely in some capacity.
Q: Following your success with VR onboarding, what does the future of VR look like at BPM?
Edward: We have been thoughtful and strategic in our approach. The VR project has been kept in an "innovation" stage until now, ensuring flexibility within the Firm. The expectations have been modest, and we have been able to be very entrepreneurial. The time is approaching to expand our bandwidth and application throughout the firm. There were naysayers at first, but we have been successful in turning most into happy users, if not enthusiastic advocates. The Metaverse enhances everything. We just need more machines and more bandwidth for training.
Heather: It could be fun to have social and team-building events in the Metaverse, but there is also great social power that comes from working and collaborating together using VR. If you have yet to experience the technology, it may be hard to believe that you can feel a sense of physical presence and personal space, but you can replicate some of the in-person experience without the cost and time to travel. The challenge for us here is having enough scale in the distribution of devices for us to connect with more people beyond the limited number who have participated in pilots.
Edward: Our potential is solely constrained by our capacity to dream. Any limit on the possibilities of VR are those we impose on ourselves. This technology can break barriers of distance without the inconveniences of travel. BPM is excited to explore what’s possible.
Interested in learning more about VR at BPM? Please book a VR session with us and we will be in touch soon.
BPM LLP is one of the 35 largest public accounting and advisory firms in the United States. Recently recognized as one of IPA’s 100 Fastest-Growing Firms, BPM works with clients in the agribusiness, consumer business, financial and professional services, life science, nonprofit, wine and craft beverage, real estate, and technology industries. As a Certified B Corp, BPM’s diverse perspectives, expansive industry knowledge and progressive solutions come together to create exceptional experiences for individuals and businesses around the world. To learn more, visit our website.
Arthur enables enterprises to meet, collaborate and manage their work in a way that generates value for them, their people, and the planet. As a pioneering XR platform, Arthur empowers enterprises to maximize their productivity while freeing themselves from geographic and physical constraints. Since its inception, Arthur Technologies has worked with multiple Fortune 500 companies to create and improve its platform. As the use of VR for work gains traction, Arthur is working towards ensuring that location ceases to be a limitation for work – both for the quality of collaboration and the availability of work opportunities. A work world without borders is not just a talent retention issue; it is a solution to make our workplaces more diverse, more equal, and more humane.
This article was prepared by Grace Qian, CPA at BPM.