Michael Mosher

490. Virtual reality can strengthen news teams working remotely

CNN’s Emerging Tech Platforms team needed a breakthrough. It needed to be more innovative in its thinking and approach to telling stories and creating products, but it was seemingly held back by old ways of thinking and working. 

One call to Marshall Mosher and his company, Vestigo, got them out of their comfort zones, into virtual reality, and out on an adventure. 

Vestigo is a company that conducts team-building exercises using virtual reality, Mosher explains. It’s an idea that came from Singularity University, a Silicon Valley program for emerging technology and startup companies that challenges them to create solutions for problems that don’t exist yet.

The problem CNN’s team was facing was a need to “get the team to think more innovatively, take more risk, create something new, think more like a startup and less like a larger risk-averse bureaucratic company,” Mosher says “The programs we were creating were really focused on how to create that innovative mindset, getting people to get outside of their comfort zone and do something that has nothing to do with work, and then taking that emotional piece of that experience … and that psychologically to the fear of navigating the unknown.” 

When Mosher participated in Singularity University in 2015, there was no way of knowing a pandemic was just down the road and would force newsrooms to send their teams home to work remotely for a year or more. 

Now companies — media and otherwise — are trying to find ways to build relationships among remote employees, some of whom might never have met their colleagues in real life yet. 

“Companies are realizing and seeing the pains that come from remote work. That’s what we’re here to solve, using virtual reality as a new technology to solve the problems of remote work and connect teams on a deeper level and really help build that mindset of innovation that’s hard to do with completely remote relationships,” Mosher says. 

For their experiences, every member of a team will put on a VR headset and enter their program. “Think of it like a teleportation machine: When you put on this headset, it’s a Star Trek-style teleporting you to that environment. You feel like you’re there, you see your coworkers. You can pick up an object. If you’re in a snowy environment, you can pick up a snowball and chuck it at someone’s face.” 

The team is given a challenge to complete together, with problems to solve along the way. For an experience in which the goal is climbing Mount Everest, the team first hears from an “adventurer” who will serve as their guide, giving them a pep talk before leaving camp. The first challenge requires the team to cross 200 foot-deep crevasses in a slow-moving glacier by walking across ladders. 

“Functionally, if someone watches you do this, you’re in your house, on the floor, walking in a straight line looking rather terrified. For the person in the experience, they feel like they’re walking across this crevasse with real-life stakes, where if they fall off there’s a 200-foot drop,” Mosher says. “You take the emotional reaction of why is this hard and relate it back to the mindset of getting outside your comfort zone and navigating the unknown and having a powerful discussion of the obstacles standing in your way.”

A self-described adventure seeker, Marshall Mosher is host of the Inside the Adventure podcast and co-founder of Vestigo, a company that conducts trust and team-building exercises using virtual reality. It’s All Journalism host Michael O’Connell talks to Mosher about how Vestigo has conducted virtual team-building exercises at news organizations like CNN’s Emerging Tech Platforms team. 

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