Image from VRfocus article on Thames Water.

VR for Workplace Wellness: Meditation, Relaxation, and Visual Getaways

October 12, 2018 - Brian Thomas

Employers constantly look for new ways to mitigate stress at work. Some have created perks and policies that enable a better work-life balance. Others are converting extra space into wellness zones where employees can nap, relax, or even do some yoga. Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan explains that “Companies provide wellness programs because they understand that healthier teammates enjoy their work more and can do more for their customers and their clients.

When employees feel their employer is invested in their wellbeing, they have a reason to stay with the company longer, lending their experience and deepening the relationships they can have with their customers and clients.” Virtual reality provides a refreshing option to include in a workplace wellness program.

The technology offers employees an ability to transport, at least visually, to different environments that are conducive to relaxation and enjoyable experiences. They will help clear the mind - or at least momentarily preoccupy it with non-work stimuli.

With displays that continue to improve, VR presents an increasingly realistic simulation of environments. This couples with enhancements to motion tracking quality and graphics that further round out the effectiveness of creating a convincing presence in spaces created by VR. It is this authentic sensation of presence that helps trick our minds and bodies into believing they exist where the headset screen indicates.

A sufficiently successful illusory existence in a pleasant VR scene can help reduce stress within the workplace as it provides employees a chance to take breaks to simulations of highly relaxing environments.

Inducing relaxation

Using virtual reality, employees may choose to transport to a beach, the mountains, or the middle of the forest as they spend time unwinding. VR also allows workers to rest in locations that are very hard or impossible to get to in the real world. Such places may include underwater environments or more abstract scenes incorporating visual aspects like certain colors or shapes that induce relaxation.

VR scenes are able to include these abstract features in rooms optimally designed for relaxation or through experiences such as those that visualize music as it flows around the user.

Visualize music as it flows around the user in experiences such as GrooVR

Visualize music as it flows around the user in experiences such as GrooVR.

With the option of moving around hands to be tracked by remotes in the 3D space, workers also have the ability interact with features of the environment. They can move or manipulate shapes, push tree branches, or even draw as they wind down in VR. The integration of hand movements into the experience helps further cement immersion as well as the relaxing effects stemming from passive or creative use of hands.

Multiple VR headsets could allow for multiple employees to share in the same relaxational environment as well. They would be presented an avatar that proxies their peer as they both enjoy the scenery or partake in other relaxational activities facilitated by the technology. They could partake in breathing exercises together or guided meditation.

This virtually shared experience can connect those in the same room, across different floors, or even across companies, as long as both ends possess the required hardware and the same software or “game.” This not only allows for things like shared virtual meditation and sunset gazing sessions, but also opens them up to those not physically located in the same office.

Types of experiences

There are many wellness apps to pick from, depending on the VR system and the desired experience. Some create more game-like relaxational experiences, while others intuitively offer wellness advice to users as well as provide them with peaceful environments within which to act on the received advice. Software offerings across this spectrum, alike, provide solid chances to take a break and reduce stress while at work.

Employees can reduce stress and anxiety as well as improve mood and energy through VR meditation sessions. These experiences may consist of tranquil surroundings and a voice that guides through breathing progressions, mindsets, or body position. Some products, like VirtualSpeech’s Mindfulness, even couple this with dedicated tutorial classes consisting of videos and lessons that provide users resources for learning wellness techniques that they can then bring into the app’s VR scene.

VirtualSpeech mindfulness VR environment

VirtualSpeech mindfulness VR environment.

A guided meditation experience allows users to break from the real world as they relax in environments of their choice while listening to the music and guiding wellness voice of their choice. Users may also have the option to turn off the guiding voice in order to soak in the music or environmental sounds alone.

Self-guided, non-linear experiences in 3D environments provide another means of immersing users into relaxed mindsets. Apps that allow users to navigate environments in less structured manners border on more traditional open-world videogames and accommodate a variation of explorative experiences.

Although there exist common features in rendering a scene or experience as “relaxing,” different users still may find peace of mind in different environments or activities. Thus, individual preferences guide the effectiveness of some VR experiences in reducing stress. For this reason, it makes sense that flexible open-world spaces serve as another viable means to induce periods of relaxation that help improve mental wellness in workforces.

Implementing workplace VR

Employees may utilize VR by visiting a wellness area housing the technology or by keeping a headset handy at their desk. Personal headsets might be more practical in big companies with many employees, especially if individuals buy them on their own. Since they enable workers to pop into a relaxing VR environments whenever desired, they would prevent potential overbookings of wellness rooms.

If employees conduct some of their daily computer use through VR, the personal headset option also offers a seamless and immediate transition to the destressing environment whenever so chosen. Individual VR equipment also helps with sanitation, since when workers have their own units, no company efforts need be expended on making sure a group headset remains clean.

With all of this said, implementing VR through hardware installation in a wellness area helps to secure enough room for the placement of sensors often needed to accurately walk around in the 3D environment. After all, it can be dangerous or physically impossible to conduct translational movements and even hand motions at some workplace desks.

LUMEN is a self-guided, nonlinear meditation

LUMEN is a self-guided, nonlinear meditation rooted at the intersection of virtual reality and wellness.

If employees desire to use a VR device capable of positional tracking, the employer would most likely need to set up designated spaces to do so. Though potential scheduling or wait time costs associated with using VR in a dedicated space come with a potential hit to the unit’s accessibility, these mild inconveniences may actually help to ensure workers don’t use up too much time for recreation.

Instead of a constant temptation to transport to a leisurely location with a VR headset sitting at their desk, employees might benefit from the restraint afforded by the slight inconveniences associated with utilizing a dedicated VR room. Furthermore, certain virtual reality experiences may require additional computational power to generate high-quality graphical renderings and the real-time tracking for a smooth time viewing them. It might be the case that not all workstations possess the strength to produce such an experience while holding off latency or droppage in frames per second. In these scenarios, community VR setups with dedicated computers present a stable option.

It is also important to note that some VR apps possess compatibility with mobile hardware. In these cases, an employee only needs a phone, phone-enabled headset, and the app in order to partake. The rollout of quality all-in-one headsets further enables meditative VR without requiring connection to powerful computers - or any computer for that matter.

Though in each of these cases, users should be aware of hardware specifications that can affect the end experience. Specifications such as degrees of freedom in motion-tracking and the processing used for graphical capabilities are just a few. Improvements to mobile devices and VR hardware continue to make strides for non-tethered virtual reality experiences.

However implemented, VR in the workplace provides employees a chance to temporarily immerse themselves in aesthetically pleasing environments conducive to relaxation. The technology can host apps that guide workers in meditative wellness practices as well as offer engaging experiences in alternate locations helping provide mental breaks that exchange stress for rejuvenative stimulation.

Guest author: Brian Thomas, Enlightened Digital

Contributor to Enlightened Digital, long-distance cyclist, and lifelong advocate for women in business from Philadelphia. Tech and business are my lifeblood, but I’m also a fanatic of brewpubs and just about every sports team in Philadelphia.