Virtual reality helps recruit new employees
While the true potential of virtual reality is still being predicted and debated by the techies, some of the brightest minds at General Mills have created a way to actually put it to work.
A video, viewed through the Oculus Rift headset, is now a part of our Recruiting team’s pitch to students on college campuses.
Oculus what, you say?
If you haven’t seen one yet, it’s a cool-looking contraption. It’s basically a set of oversized goggles that seal off your eyes in order to see its interior screens. The view you get is an experience that’s all about the wow factor.
And for our Recruiting purposes, wow goes a long way.
The video that a team of employees created for the headset just made its official debut at a career event at the University of Minnesota. It’s a unique way for a student to “see” themselves working at General Mills and living nearby.
Produced within the last month, the team shot the scenes all around our headquarters in Minneapolis, using a rig topped with GoPro cameras to capture 360-degree view. They also took it on the road, shooting at popular landmarks in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
How and why we made the video for the Oculus Rift is a lesson in ideas, persistence and execution.
It starts with an idea
Jeremy Judkins, developer manager for General Mills and a technical consultant on the project, got his first glimpse of the Oculus Rift at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in March 2014, in Austin, Texas.
He was blown away.
“I felt like what it must have felt like to watch TV for the first time,” says Jeremy.
Fast forward a few months later to November, when he was part of a technology demo day at our headquarters. The Oculus Rift was one of the devices employees could try out.
Gail Hill, an application developer, looked it over and put it on. “I thought it was pretty cool,” Gail says. She suggested to Jeremy and that the Oculus Rift might be a perfect fit for our Recruiting team.
“I liked the idea of making a video for it that could make students feel like they were here.”
But that idea would have to wait a bit longer to get its legs.
This April, Gail and Jeremy pitched it at one of our “Idea Weekend” events, where General Mills employees who participate get one minute to present something to other employees from various parts of the company. The pitches are then voted on and the teams still in the running try and bring their ideas to life in just one day.
Gail and Jeremy’s team created a rough prototype of a video tour of our headquarters for the Oculus Rift to demonstrate the concept to participants and senior leaders at the event. While they didn’t take top honors at Idea Weekend, they felt that they had proved the potential of the device and opened some eyes to its possibilities.
But they weren’t done with it just yet.
Going from idea to reality
In June, the Oculus Rift project came back to life when an internal group called the Innovation Community of Practice met to consider all of the 42 pitches from April’s Idea Weekend.
“We looked at the technology-oriented initiatives in those pitches and narrowed them down to ones that were technically feasible,” says Leo Timmons, IT director, Application Development. “The scope of a recruiting video for the Oculus Rift was reasonable and really popped to the top so we decided to push for funding.”
The next step led the team to leaders in Recruiting, to get their thoughts on what prospective employees would want to see in the video and how it would be used.
The Recruiting team was on board in a big way.
“Innovation has been a part of General Mills’ success from the very beginning. The Oculus Rift technology is just another example,” says Scott Swayne, director, U.S. Recruiting. “It allows us to virtually introduce our candidates to our culture, facilities and community.”
Recruiting’s excitement for the project fueled the project’s purpose.
“Recruiting is one of the most valuable things we do here,” says Jeremy. “It’s the future of our company that we’re building.”
With their budget approved it was time to buy more equipment, get a team together for Gail to lead, and then plan out the video.
In other words, time to really get to work.
That’s when the team shot their various scenes – with their odd-looking 360-degree GoPro rig – all over company headquarters and across the Twin Cities (including Target Field and the banks of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis).
After editing the video and fine-tuning it for viewing on the headset, the project was ready for its first test with students.
Trying it out
Recruiting brought the Oculus Rift to a career event in the Twin Cities in early August and the reaction to the virtual tour video was everything that they and the development team had hoped for.
“Everyone who wore it would say, ‘This is so cool,’” says Gail. “They were so amazed that we were doing something so different at a career fair. They were really impressed by it.”
“The gear draws a crowd,” Leo says. “We knew it would be an automatic magnet for attention. When you’re trying to standout in a crowded career hall, nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.”
“Watching people try it early on was a mix of excitement and fear,” says Jeremy. “But when we hear ‘Wow!’ from the people who put it on, it’s worth it. Admittedly, it’s still a prototype kit with cutting-edge tech, and the experience isn’t going to be perfect for everyone, but we know we’ve created a memorable experience.”
And, as best as the team can tell, no other company at the career fairs we’ve attended has used the Oculus Rift in this way.
While it won’t replace the need for scheduled visits to our headquarters for all candidates, it can bring our campus to theirs.
“We differentiate ourselves through a high-touch candidate experience,” says Scott. “The Oculus Rift technology compliments this beautifully and General Mills is seen as creative and modern. We see it becoming a fun, new contributor to attracting top talent – our number one priority in Recruiting.”
The Oculus Rift headset and video will appear at some other University of Minnesota career events this fall, as well as at Wisconsin and Michigan State, among other colleges.
The lessons of a culture of creating
I asked the team to reflect on their journey with the Oculus Rift, from the idea stage to seeing it in action, and it was clear from their responses that the experience was career-changing.
“I love the fact that we have leaders who are willing to listen to us and that we have a platform like Idea Weekend where we can pitch these things,” Jeremy says. “And that it didn’t die there, that people listened to us afterwards and had enough faith for us to be able to bring this forward.”
“I’ve been here 20 years,” says Gail. “This project makes me really proud to work at General Mills and be allowed to work on things in the years ahead that aren’t necessarily within my job description.”
It’s about culture, innovation and creation.
“Inside every employee here is an idea and it’s our job to get those ideas out and get out of the way and let those ideas happen,” Leo says. “Because there are a thousand reasons not to do anything new. You have to prevent the people who say ‘no’ from killing ideas off too soon and provide just enough support. It’s like a flower that grows up enough to see the light of day.”
For their part, Gail and Jeremy, and the others on their team, are already thinking up new uses for the Oculus Rift or another virtual reality device, from tours of our plants and global offices to training videos.
After all, there’s another Idea Weekend in October.
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