Q. So, Kristen, how is Meetings & Events using Virtual Reality?
Kristen: Naturally, as meeting planners, we’re always looking for new ways of engaging with clients and co-workers. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, our meetings and events team started actively researching VR technology. We turned to FCAT for some creative help.
Masked-up, I met with Jamie Barras (VP, Emerging Tech, FCAT) in her home, where she showed me three different types of headsets and an opportunity to enter the virtual world. I chose one and, suddenly, I was standing on the moon with George Wang (Principal Software Engineer, FCAT), who chatted with me while showing me around. I was hooked immediately and got really excited about the chance to leverage the technology. The coffee chats and cocktail hours that had been missing could come to life virtually!
The Meetings & Events team partnered with FCAT, Learning @ FI/FBOT and High Touch Services (HTS) to plan and execute six VR programs, across 200+ attendees, since October 2020. The programs range from client CIOs, COOs, Family Office rising-gen (next generation) and HR leaders. Using VR in these events helps people to connect socially and build relationships with others without being in the same place physically.
Q. What is the process to create a VR experience for your own team and others?
Kristen: We spent the initial weeks researching equipment, software and use cases, with Jamie Barras and vetting those through Compliance. Then we tested activities with Liz Bowen’s Learning @ FI/FBOT [learning and development] team using the Fidelity YOU program as a model for building customized experiences. High Touch Services (HTS) helped us with the logistics of cleaning and shipping headsets, so we now have a streamlined process.
Now our Meetings & Events group has 70 headsets and platform licenses allowing us to schedule appropriately for the year. We collaborate with business partners and planning teams to determine the best experience, once in VR, that will complement the goals of their meeting and fit well with their attendee profile.
Mike: We’re all constructing our programs around the same process. But for each effort we’re starting from scratch to create something that is unique to the team that will be using it. For example, the Learning @ FI/FBOT team developed a Fidelity Neighborhood experience for internal attendees where they had to guess which neighborhood they were in. So, it's using the baseline of what the current hardware systems have to offer and putting custom items in there for individual groups.
Q. How do you first introduce VR to a team?
Mike: We go in assuming people do not know how to use it. The first step is an unboxing ceremony where they take the headsets out of the box and we orient them to the equipment and what they can expect in the VR world, for example, sometimes there's motion sickness that comes along with using the VR, so in that case we offer a 2D app as well.
Kristen: Our team likes to introduce engaging ways for our business partners to connect with their clients during meetings. Our strong partnership with FCAT and Learning @ FI/FBOT enables the meetings and events team to introduce, test, and refine the concepts before ultimately bringing the ideas to business leaders.
Q. Are you creating custom environments for meetings?
Kristen: Yes, we’re utilizing custom environments and enhanced standard options. We have one platform that we use broadly for meetings, because it allows us to control the experience as well as enable features on and off. Using vetted software is key for our team when working with compliance on any technology used for events.
Q. What added value does VR bring to these meeting?
Kristen: The use of virtual reality allows us, as meeting planners, to transport groups of people to extraordinary places and experience fully immersive settings together. Some of the activities we host in VR are not accessible for groups in-person. Most recently, we hosted a group of clients in VR that climbed Mount Everest together. Obviously, this wouldn’t have been possible to execute outside the headset!
Mike: The environment also generates a lot of accidental conversations, the casual conversations and the unplanned interactions that might not occur on a typical zoom call.
Q. Would you say VR increases the opportunity to build relationships?
Kristen: Absolutely. VR is accessible and easy to jump into the headset to connect with peers and clients. From a program design aspect, we focus on shaping the environments and team building activities that cultivate existing relationships and create opportunities to meet new people. VR is also a powerful tool from an inclusion standpoint. The ability for attendees to set-up their own custom avatars allow participants to select their age, gender, and outfit of choice. It’s a powerful way for people to connect on an equal footing.
Mike: When a dispersed Fidelity team has a stand up, it’s usually in a Zoom meeting with someone in Boston and Westlake and North Carolina. But if you're in the headset, it feels like everyone's there in the same room together. So, it can even improve a 10-minute stand up in the morning with the whole team together.
How do you think VR might evolve at Fidelity? What would you like to see?
Kristen: It’s interesting. We have learned a lot about our meeting attendees in this virtual environment. Some are happy not to travel and find they can get what they need in-terms of content while staying at home or the local office. Others are excited at the opportunity to meet in-person and cannot wait to get back. I would love to see VR as an added virtual component to those programs that decide to stay virtual or hybrid.
Mike: From an events perspective, I would love to see us bring in video assets of presenters on a video stage. It's been done many times at other companies. We could have our company meeting or a Couchella that's not just an avatar of our executives but an actual live video feed of them. We could bring in as many people as we’d like into the audience, engage them in different ways, and have breaks and send them off into the neighborhoods. It’s something you can’t do now whether you’re in person or remote with Zoom.
FCAT continues to help various Fidelity teams build more use cases for VR in the workplace.