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Why Accenture is giving VR headsets to thousands of new hires

Formula One drivers use virtual reality to simulate a race, Walmart (WMT) employees don the headsets to prepare for unruly customers, and Bank of America (BAC) workers practice sensitive financial conversations on the devices.

But as a labor shortage stifles companies struggling to make hires in the first place, some firms have turned to virtual reality for help attracting and retaining new employees who may never set foot in the office.

Julie Sweet, CEO of the Ireland-based consulting giant Accenture (ACN), tells Yahoo Finance that the company is giving virtual headsets to thousands of hires as part of its remote onboarding process.

The headsets make up part of the company's strategy of replicating the intimacy of an in-person work environment, while preserving the safety and flexibility of working from home, Sweet said.

"When you started a new job, but pre-pandemic, you showed up someplace," she says. "You had the excitement, you went home, and you said, 'This is what the coffee's like, this is who I met.'"

'Our onboarding is now going to include virtual reality'

"Well, we have all these people who are shutting their laptops, and then the next day opening their laptop from Accenture, and there is no physical connection," she adds. "So we said, well, how do we solve that?"

"Our new employees now get a welcome box. Sure, it has its computer. But it has these little signs that are ... are like the posters they would have seen in the office," she says. "... At the same time, we just ordered thousands of Oculus headsets. Why? Because our onboarding is now going to include virtual reality."

Accenture, which works with more than three-quarters of Fortune Global 500 companies, has seen a surge in business as clients sought their advice ramping up digital operations amid the pandemic. To keep up with growing demand, Accenture has hired 118,000 employees over the past year, Sweet wrote in a letter to shareholders.

Dan Howley tries out the Google Daydream View virtual-reality headset and controller following a product event, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, in San Francisco. Daydream View will differ from other headsets, like Samsung's Gear VR, in having a companion motion controller and compatibility with a wide range of phones, including Google's new Pixel phones. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Dan Howley, Yahoo Finance's tech editor, tries out the Google Daydream View virtual-reality headset and controller following a product event, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Sweet began her career as an attorney at the high-powered firm Cravath, Swaine, & Moore and later joined Accenture as a general counsel. In 2019, she became CEO.

Speaking to Yahoo Finance, Sweet emphasized the importance of establishing personal relationships and company culture within the remote workplace.

"Really thinking about how you build connections, and you bring the physical and the digital world together differently," she says. "We think is the long term success of how you both engage, attract, and retain employees."

"We do believe it is a permanent experience that all companies will have more people who work remotely," she adds. "We've really rethought that experience."

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