The world of technology is always changing, often accelerated by the social and cultural realities of the time. These changes are sometimes incremental and have a seemingly imperceptible impact on our lives, or we can find ourselves in the midst of a paradigm shift. We are arguably entering such a period now. The development of extended reality (XR) platforms is being thrust centre stage at a time when we as a society have collectively become more comfortable with our primary interactions occurring in digital spaces as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the main areas of our lives impacted by this shift has been the workplace, affecting how many of us work and interact with our clients, customers, and colleagues. As organizations find themselves making a more permanent shift to an increasingly virtual and hybrid model of working, many are looking for new technologies to better support this moving forward. Enter XR. While this may seem like a perfect solution for this new normal, adopting these immersive technologies in the workplace highlights both existing and new information governance (IG) challenges and risks. Organizations will be forced to consider how these technologies and the associated information produced through their use fit into existing IG policies and frameworks, and what steps should be taken to mitigate potential risk.

What is XR Anyway?

Numerous buzzwords and acronyms are associated with these immersive technologies, and many people may find themselves asking what does it all mean? Extended reality or ‘XR’ “refers to all real-and-virtual environments generated by computer graphics and wearables. The ‘X’ in XR is simply a variable that can stand for any letter. XR is the umbrella category that covers all the various forms of computer-altered reality, including: Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR), and Virtual Reality (VR)”.[1] Each of these provides users with a different degree of sensory immersion and interaction between the real world and the digital content they create.[2] AR overlays digital content onto the real environment viewable by the use of technology such as smartphones/tablets or AR glasses, while VR completely obscures the real world and immerses users in an interactive, digitally generated environment using head-mounted displays (HMD).[3] MR combines the two, allowing a user to interact with responsive digital content integrated into the real environment via a dedicated headset.[4] XR technologies work by sending digital information to the human senses, requiring the use of sensors and cameras to track and gather information and accept commands, creating immersive experiences by enabling real-time responses to virtual stimuli using supporting technologies.[5]

While XR inherently requires the collection of user data to operate effectively, the specific type of immersive technology used (i.e. AR, MR, or VR) will dictate the type and quantity of data required. XR technology is quickly progressing, and it is possible that more advanced tracking technologies such as pupil dilation hardware; advanced hand, limb and eye tracking; and haptic or neurological interfaces will soon become standard features of these systems.[6] The advancing technical landscape of XR makes it even more important for organizations to start immediately considering the implications of implementing them in the workplace. This will help organizations stay ahead of the curve in dealing with the associated IG challenges and better mitigate risk. A key to success will be to understand these issues early on and create a solid foundation of policies, processes, and procedures from which to build an effective XR strategy. As a starting point, organizations should consider potential uses for this technology in their workplaces.

Possible Use Cases in the Workplace

With all the hype surrounding these immersive technologies, it is likely that many organizations have started asking how they can leverage XR to support their business. While it is important to start considering their potential uses and subsequent impact now, organizations must also understand that despite the push for development, it is still early days and XR is not necessarily ready to be widely implemented yet. Some possible use cases follow.

Training & Education

While not a new concept, the use of VR in particular for employee training in the workplace has received increased attention thanks to the shift to remote working. The immersive qualities of VR training make it easier for employees to learn quickly, retain more knowledge, and gain a deeper comprehension of the subject matter.[7] VR has been particularly effective in soft skills training for new and existing employees.[8] XR can also be useful for training related to expensive and/or dangerous procedures, helping organizations cut costs and better ensure worker safety.[9] That said, the use of VR for training purposes requires assessment on a case-by-case basis, and organizations need to ensure they are meeting training requirements in specific circumstances if VR is used.[10]

Hiring & Recruitment Hiring and recruitment is another area where XR may aid employers, helping identify the best candidates for the job. Providing prospective candidates with an opportunity to virtually experience what working in a particular role would be like, not only allows employers to see how the applicant might perform, but also allows applicants to evaluate whether they think it would be a good fit for them, helping to reduce turnover.[11] Using XR for recruitment purposes will require extra care in addressing privacy considerations, particularly relating to non-hired applicants, an area which often includes maximum retention requirements for personal data, and which may attract additional considerations in relation to discrimination.