Human factors to design a virtual reality work environment

Blog - 2022-01-26

Guidelines considering human factors to design a virtual reality work environment for a safe and effective use

Alexis Souchet, CNRS

INFINITY partners are building a collaborative platform in Virtual Reality (VR) for Law Enforcement workers. Users will process data sets, create graphs, visualize data, share multimedia files, read and write, and conduct meetings. VR can cause side effects known as virtual reality-induced symptoms and effects (VRISE) (Sharples et al., 2008). The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (Anses) and the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), in reports or communications, already point out risks of side effects in VR (EU-OSHA, 2019; Anses, 2021). Those risks could be detrimental to some workers who may be highly susceptible to VRISE as they could be unable to use VR. One project task consisted in drawing guidelines to partners to safeguard workers' health and security using head-mounted displays (HMDs).

VR image
                                              Image credit: leungchopan / Shutterstock.com

An extensive scientific literature review has been conducted, gathering over 500 articles and synthesizing them to provide practical guidelines. We focused on five VRISE risks:

  • Cybersickness. Stanney et al. (2020) report that at least one-third of users will experience cybersickness, with 5% presenting severe symptoms with the current HMDs generation.
  • Visual fatigue. It is already an issue in everyday work with various screen use as a large population is that risk: at least 50% (Sheppard & Wolffsohn, 2018). However, since HMDs are not democratized at work like PCs, it is hard to evaluate risks for workers.
  • Muscle fatigue. Users' cheekbone, back of the head, neck, shoulders, and harm are subjective muscle fatigue or pain when using HMDs.
  • Acute stress. Introducing HMDs could participate in technostress (Ragu-Nathan et al., 2008). Public speaking has been shown to induce higher stress reaction during the standard Trier Social Stress Test in VR than non-immersive conditions (Helminen et al., 2019; Zimmer et al., 2019).
  • Mental overload. Mental fatigue seems higher in VR than the same tasks in a real office (Shen et al., 2019), but this is very task-dependent.

For each of those VRISE, we compiled factors that can influence their occurrence under three types, following pioneering scientific works (LaViola, 2000):

  • Individual factors relating to user characteristics
  • Hardware factors relating to head-mounted display characteristics
  • Software factors relating to interaction and interface characteristics

Ninety factors total could influence VRISE:

  • Fifty factors for cybersickness
  • Fourteen for visual fatigue
  • Fifteen for muscle fatigue
  • Nine for acute stress
  • Two for mental overload (that are not task-specific)

General design guidelines for using VR at work are with current technology's maturity and scientific knowledge of associated human factors' issues:

  • Design the environment so users can fulfill most tasks within 20 minutes
  • Provide an "exploration phase" so users can overview fundamental interactions and system feedback
  • Provide a virtual assistant to the user to adapt interactions and interfaces
  • Limit movements within the virtual environment and display stereoscopy only if tasks require depth cues
  • Create main features by considering user is sitting but allow him to stand and walk a bit
  • Prefer teleportation with guides for orientation if locomotion within the virtual environment is necessary
  • Allow user to customize his experience with the virtual environment (avatar, interface, and interactions…)
  • Provide a monitoring toolkit based on questionnaires and psychophysiological measurements allowing to determine user's susceptibility to side effects and to detect them while they are immersed
  • Provide stress relieving environment in case users are stressed: nature (trees, grass, indoor biophilic environment), daylight, and relaxing music

Current Head-Mounted Displays and virtual environments will most likely induce VRISE to part of workers. To date, no existing method can fully alleviate VR side effects. Therefore, workers' health and safety need to be closely monitored and safeguarded if VR is used.

General guidelines that employers should follow for a healthy, safe, and performant use of virtual environments:

  • Train workers to use hardware and software. This will allow habituation, desensitization for the riskiest populations, reduce technostress and promote the right amount of mental workload
  • Rethink working tasks so they can be adapted to virtual environments constraint
  • Monitor workers' psychophysiological reaction to the virtual environment to gather data for establishing use benefit/risk ratio at introducing VR in the office
  • Have workers filling basic anonymous questionnaires that can inform about their susceptibility to VRISE before introducing VR in the office

The report drawing guidelines for INFINITY partners to safeguard workers' health and security is confidential as some material is specific to sensitive police-work information. However, an article will be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal to communicate the guidelines to apply for office-like tasks in VR.

Stay tuned!

 

References

Anses. (2021). AVIS et RAPPORT de l’Anses relatifs aux effets sanitaires potentiels liés à l’exposition aux technologies utilisant la réalité augmentée et la réalité virtuelle (Avis de l’Anses, Rapports d’expertise collective No. 2017-SA-0076). Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire de l’alimentation, de l’environnement et du travail. https://www.anses.fr/fr/node/149881

EU-OSHA. (2019). Digitalisation and occupational safety and health (Brochure doi:10.2802/119288). European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. https://op.europa.eu/s/oCGw

Helminen, E. C., Morton, M. L., Wang, Q., & Felver, J. C. (2019). A meta-analysis of cortisol reactivity to the Trier Social Stress Test in virtual environments. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 110, 104437. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2019.104437

LaViola, J. J. (2000). A discussion of cybersickness in virtual environments. ACM SIGCHI Bulletin, 32(1), 47–56. https://doi.org/10.1145/333329.333344

Ragu-Nathan, T. S., Tarafdar, M., Ragu-Nathan, B. S., & Tu, Q. (2008). The Consequences of Technostress for End Users in Organizations: Conceptual Development and Empirical Validation. Information Systems Research, 19(4), 417–433. https://doi.org/10.1287/isre.1070.0165

Sharples, S., Cobb, S., Moody, A., & Wilson, J. R. (2008). Virtual reality induced symptoms and effects (VRISE): Comparison of head mounted display (HMD), desktop and projection display systems. Displays, 29(2), 58–69. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.displa.2007.09.005

Shen, R., Weng, D., Chen, S., Guo, J., & Fang, H. (2019). Mental Fatigue of Long-Term Office Tasks in Virtual Environment. 2019 IEEE International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality Adjunct (ISMAR-Adjunct), 124–127. https://doi.org/10.1109/ISMAR-Adjunct.2019.00-65

Sheppard, A. L., & Wolffsohn, J. S. (2018). Digital eye strain: Prevalence, measurement and amelioration. BMJ Open Ophthalmology, 3(1), e000146. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjophth-2018-000146

Stanney, K., Lawson, B. D., Rokers, B., Dennison, M., Fidopiastis, C., Stoffregen, T., Weech, S., & Fulvio, J. M. (2020). Identifying Causes of and Solutions for Cybersickness in Immersive Technology: Reformulation of a Research and Development Agenda. International Journal of Human–Computer Interaction, 36(19), 1783–1803. https://doi.org/10.1080/10447318.2020.1828535

Zimmer, P., Buttlar, B., Halbeisen, G., Walther, E., & Domes, G. (2019). Virtually stressed? A refined virtual reality adaptation of the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) induces robust endocrine responses. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 101, 186–192. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2018.11.010