How Orange Silicon Valley Uses Virtual Reality To Improve Employee Safety

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Orange Silicon Valley is a research and innovation laboratory of Orange Group, a French Telecom Operator, which is a leading network operator for mobile, broadband internet, and fixed line telecommunications in 30 countries and territories. We are a global community of 161,000 people, reflecting the wonderfully varied markets we serve.

The importance of Orange Silicon Valley is to be Orange’s Bay Area presence and to understand technology trends and solutions. Through research, development, and strategic analysis, we actively participate in the disruptive innovations that are changing the way we work.

Our capacity to contribute and engage with the Silicon Valley ecosystem is a way to foster innovation and seek out disruption within our organization. We cross disciplines in our different verticals such as Virtual Reality and Human Resources. We believe that innovation comes from people who don’t know what they can’t do.

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Technology can dramatically improve employees experience. Employees’ workflows and workplaces are constantly being reshaped. Emergency evacuation is a part of this experience. Being aware of and learning procedures is not always easy and efficient.

Since Orange Silicon Valley’s fire emergency training happens once a year, new employees or employees who are not in the office on that specific day miss the training. For employees who do attend training, instructions can be hard to remember due to a lack of immersion and focus.

Virtual Reality can help organizations increase both user engagement and focus through better efficiency and flexibility. The core function of our case study is to assess the way virtual reality enhances employees experiences when they have to learn the emergency procedure.

Virtual reality training also gives employees an alternative to the physical drill that happens once a year. As portability is the next new capability, using VR is a way to verify the state of the technology and understand how we can change the way we communicate and collaborate, and redefine the future of digital workplace.

Why did we consider VR as a solution for a fire emergency training?

  • Some employees miss the emergency training or don’t have the opportunity to do it during onboarding

  • Few people read our 22-page fire emergency procedure, which explains where they have to go and what they should and should not do

  • Emergency staff (volunteers) have difficulties remembering exactly what they have to do

  • Not everyone is aware of both the east and west building exit routes, or where the meeting point is on the street

Why from a Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality Standpoint?

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are two different assets. While Augmented Reality (AR) is an overlay of content on the real world, Computer-Generated Virtual Reality (CG VR) is an immersive experience created entirely from computer-generated content.

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Virtual Reality is part of the 4th Wave of Computing Platform after PC, Internet & Mobile. AR and VR enable new experience and change the way we can communicate and collaborate. AR and VR are great tools in transforming workplace learning and lead to higher retention rate of learning.

Applying these new technologies throughout different use cases, such as the emergency training, can help to anticipate the future of digital workplace. With VR comes an active learning thanks to the immersive environment provided into it. It can helps workforce to be more flexible, resulting in greater autonomy and productivity.

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We identified key parts of employee onboarding training related to our emergency procedure.

  • Thanks to Virtual Reality training, employees can know exactly how to get to the company gathering point outside of the building.

  • Orange Silicon Valley’s legacy HR procedure is a 22-pages document that explains the evacuation procedure and duties related to it. This is long, and not all employees read it.

We tried to solve these problems by building an expansive virtual reality environment to help our employees learn the exit route to get to our emergency gathering point outside of the building by themselves.

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We created a VR environment consisting of our building’s 11th floor (open to the public), 10th floor (open space), and street level by iterating with Uinnova Technology, a startup we are working with.

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We chose to implement our project by working with Uinnova Technology. Uinnova solution is a 3D visualization platform that helps users build 3D simulation scenes, develop applications and integrate their IoT data and system. By bringing advanced interactive 3D capabilities to current and legacy User Interaction, Uinnova seeks to improve user experience by working on specific use cases with companies.

We chose to implement our project through an agile framework. The goal is to build, try, and correct the virtual reality environment until we deliver a version compliant with HR needs.

# Step 1: Building the virtual reality environment

Establishing a common language and framework between Orange Silicon Valley and the startup we are working with was the first step. The technical vocabulary related to VR and HR came very quickly. For instance, we had to redefine what we consider points of interest and navigation points.

Here are the technical steps we took to design our office:

  1. Figure out what part of the building/street level we needed to provide in order to let the employee walk (or run) to our company gathering point

  2. Provide the floor plan and pictures to build the environment virtually (navigation points)

  3. Provide pictures of the fire emergency path’s points of interest, such as exit signs, fire extinguishers, and stairwells

  4. Provide the exact location of our points of interest and furniture on the floor plan

  5. Use a 360° camera to implement a video for the fire emergency route

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From a Human Resources perspective, part of the fire emergency procedure had to be designed at each point of interest and some of the navigation points. For example, a popup appears when an employee sees a fire extinguisher or moves to a specific location where unique instructions are needed.

We divided our work in three parts, floor by floor, to provide a fully immersive environment that complies with our Human Resources needs. To do so, we reviewed the fire procedure with our HR department to figure out which parts of the exit path are the most important during the process.

To help our HR department save time during the onboarding process, we needed to replicate the possibility of walking freely in the space to get familiar with the floor as well as provide a quick, automatic, and safe VR training. For each floor, we provided two different demonstrations.

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  1. We implemented a demo point where the system will take employees to the meeting point automatically. For this procedure, employees just have to put on the VR headset and sit down. For this model, we tried to be as close to the onboarding process as possible in order to deliver the right exit path.

  2. We implemented a self-navigation model that requires employees to navigate themselves and see the exit sign and fire extinguisher. In this navigation model, employees have to use the remotes and stand up while virtually moving through the space. This second mode enables us to provide a quiz mode later on that requires employees to figure out where to go on their own and demonstrate their knowledge of the procedure.

11th floor section

On our 11th floor,  which is open to the public, we highlighted the kitchen, the lunch area, and the data center first, since these zone are more risky than conference rooms for instance, due to electricity, servers, etc. We designed a starting point by default in the bistro since this point is far away from stairs.

Also, we prioritized the most populated zones on the 11th floor. If a fire happens, the probability of having employees in the “bistro” or in the west lobby is higher than somewhere else. We also focused on the front desk space, since it is close to our four elevators. One of the rules we emphasize during the onboarding process is taking the stairs instead of using the elevators.

11th floor starting point

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On the picture herein above, the red fire pop-up enables a virtual fire and triggers a recorded fire drill to increase the immersive experience. The white arrow pop-up next to the fire pop-up allows the user to switch between different demo modes. The white menu on the right enables the HR department to record user actions into the immersive environment. Such records can be shown to the trainee.

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11th floor elevators

On the picture herein above, the white pop-up “Do not use elevators. Move in an orderly fashion toward the stairs” is a copy past of the emergency procedure. Every employee can read this guideline through the legacy procedure. Our purpose is to use the virtual environment to improve the learning experience.

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10th floor section

On our 10th floor, we designed our open space and our lobby by paying close attention to the “default starting point”, right in the center of the open space. The two different modes also work for this floor, and we added a virtual fire on one side to see how employees react to it.

10th floor starting point

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On the picture herein above, the demo mode enables user to play an automated recorded path from the demo list. Such a mode enables the user to have an overview of the exit path without using actively the remote and the VR headset. The drill mode adds virtual fires and an audio fire alarm in the self-navigation model in order to emphasize the sense of urgency.

Stairs section

The stairs on both sides are important to emphasize since everyone in the building has to use them in emergency situations. The automatic mode teleports employees directly to the first floor (instead of doing 9 flights of stairs in VR mode);

Stairs on 10th floor

  Stairs on 10th floor

On the picture herein above, we added all the building floors so that the user can click to be teleported at specific locations. The other floors are empty, but we designed this feature since our building manager is interested in sharing our demo with the HR departments of the other companies in the building.

Street level section

The first floor and the street level are an important part of the piece since employees have to go to the gathering point. We had a specific request from our HR coordinator who is in charge of taking attendance at the gathering point. She brought our attention to the difficulties in showing people exactly where they need to go once they are on the street, so we used additional resources to design arrows and signs to show people exactly where to go.

Street level close to the company gathering point

On the picture herein above, the green arrow indicates the path to follow to get to the company gathering point. The yellow arrow indicates the exact location of the gathering point. Those features have been added to help our users to visualize clearly where to go.

Gathering point

The trainee’s goal is to reach the point where employees meet in the VR environment in order to get used to taking the right path and be more efficient on the day of an emergency.

#Step 2: Collecting qualitative feedback to adjust the environment

Inspection: We tried to have regular meetings during our project because some technical aspects had to be improved. For example, we were wondering what kind of experience the user considers “the best” when they are in the VR environment. Moving through the VR space can be done through a flying mode or a jumping mode (from one point to another). We chose the flying mode since it gives employees the impression that they are walking through the space.

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Our first sample group had not participated in the emergency procedure during the  annual physical training. Testing this group first allowed us to assess the way they recognize the space and the exit routes to see how they reacted. This helped us understand the way they handle this technology and how they use it more accurately.

We chose a second sample of qualified people, mainly consisting of our HR head and other employees in charge of office logistics to get a sense of what should be emphasized and corrected first. This helped us identify the potential next steps in providing a full and effective emergency training process.

To comply with the human resources procedure and help enhance the onboarding process, employees have to get a real sense of where they are and understand the instructions we provide in the emergency procedure.

#Step 3: We adjust and prioritize our requests to our vendors

One of the red lines we want to keep in mind is “What is the minimum viable environment and procedure we have to provide to empowers employees learn by themselves?”

This question led us to prioritize these features in our most recent cycles:

  • Add furniture in our rooms to help employees know exactly which side of the office they are on (and in turn reduce cybersickness)

  • Add a fire drill, virtual fires and danger pop-up to help people feel a sense of emergency through Virtual Reality

  • Improve the quality of the pop-up with a recorded audio voice

  • Add features to help user interactions with the machine (menu to get to a specific location, implemented default paths)

At Orange Silicon Valley, we use the “Now New Next” framework to emphasize what we are looking for and what we expect. Crossing disciplines between Human Resources and Virtual Reality is a way for us to test and learn.

The purpose of our framework is to be clear about what we should look for in the near future and the scale of our virtual reality procedure. Next, we would like to extend our virtual reality procedure to the entire office, and then to the rest of the building and beyond.

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It think it is a good supplement/complement to physical training. Maybe people have only used one exit in real life during a drill, and this give them the opportunity to see all the possible exit paths to safety.
— Orange HR Manager

This initiative was introduced earlier this year so we in the early stages of gathering hard data such as completion percentage/etc. We're sharing some of our key learnings below. 

Employee Experience

  • Virtual Reality improves the employee experience related to the fire emergency procedure.

  • The best moment to provide this demonstration would be during onboarding, the employee’s first month at the office. This improves the way they make the connection between the workspace they already know and what they find in training.

  • The training process provided by our human resources coordinator is easier and safer. Describing exactly where the meeting point is remains abstract, whereas showing it through Virtual Reality is accurate and saves time.  

Learning Experience

  • The automated demo is interesting, but our HR department prefers the active demonstration since the learning process is proactive instead of passive. Active learning is preferred when employees have to find a way to get to the meeting point.

  • Different people have different ways of learning, so we would like to keep the written popups, and add voice recordings to help them learn.

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When we launched this Proof of Concept we were already used to implementing use cases in Virtual Reality. However, we could have focused on the impact of the training rather than building the entire environment and then letting employees test it.

What we could have done differently:

  1. Feedback sessions on the training side should have come earlier. One of the best ways to implement such a large virtual environment is to let users try at an early stage of the development process. This way seems to be the best to see how employees learn.

  2. An ideal implementation would have been to design one floor first before going further. Employees can then test it and tell us what’s wrong with the demo (such as furniture, space recognition, popups or cybersickness feeling). Once these aspects have been corrected, it is much easier to develop the other floors since we are sure we won’t miss anything on the learning side.

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Cybersickness

One of the major takeaways is the cybersickness our employees experience when they are exposed to a virtual reality environment. Virtual Reality sickness is different from motion sickness in that it can be caused by the visually-induced perception of self-motion; real self-motion is not needed.

There are many factors that can cause cybersickness and there is no foolproof method for eliminating the problem. However, we identified patterns that we emphasized to our vendor to change the way we organized the immersive environment:

  • Graphic quality is essential to having a good experience

  • An immersive environment without bugs is fundamental (e.g. going through the walls, teleporting to a different floor very quickly)

  • A slower flying mode helps postpone the dizzy feeling but does not eliminate it

  • A furnished environment helps give a better sense of where we are so that the brain can focus on the immersive environment instead of what’s around

Gendered bias

Our office is divided between the east and west side, and the same goes for our restrooms. Women use the west side stairs more frequently because their restrooms are on that side. Men use the east side stairs more frequently for the same reason.

If a fire emergency happens, the east side will be more crowded than the west since there are more men than women who work in the office. VR training helped us to understand this bias so that we can anticipate how to organize the emergency team in case of a real emergency. Another part of the training can help people in charge be prepared to regulate the traffic on the east side.

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  • HTC Virtual reality headset

  • Uinnova Technology

  • Rico-Theta S-360° Camera to record the environment and exit route

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