Imagine you're an intern or co-op student at TD. It's your third week, and you're getting ready to log in for a day of remote work.
But instead of opening your computer, you don a virtual reality (VR) headset.
Suddenly, you're transported; you look out the window and see the coast of Montenegro, not the Toronto skyline. Your fellow interns – or rather, their avatars – soon materialize in front of you and it isn't long before you're chit-chatting as you wait for a presentation from a senior leader to begin.
Once the leader gets going, you don't glance at your phone or chip away at other work in an effort to multitask. Instead, you're fully immersed in the presentation. Once the session wraps, you make plans to meet up later with some of your colleagues in VR for a virtual kick-boxing class.
For more than 100 intern and co-op students who joined TD between January and April 2023, that wasn't an imaginary experience; it was a regular, albeit virtual, workday.
Earlier this year, the TD Early Talent Team – responsible for the Bank's intern/co-op and associate programs – introduced the TD Virtual Reality Co-op and Intern Pilot Program as the Bank's colleague-facing foray into augmented reality (a term used to describe an interconnected virtual world). The result? 93% of TD intern participants polled by TD said they would recommend the VR experience to their friends or classmates.
Keshini Hallock, a cyber security intern at TD, wasn't initially chosen to take part in the pilot, but jumped at an opportunity to join when she learned a few spots had opened up. As a business technology management student at Toronto Metropolitan University, she was eager to learn about an emerging technology through immersion.
Before her co-op term, she had never tried VR and had never heard of it being used for anything beyond gaming or entertainment. She said she quickly adapted to the platform and appreciated how it helped her connect with her fellow students, many of whom were scattered across Canada. She also loved attending interactive learning sessions and presentations.
"When you're on Teams or Webex, it's easy to be distracted by other messages popping up or doing other work on the side," Hallock said. "When you're on a [VR] headset, you can't really do anything else but be fully immersed in the experience or what the other person is talking about."
A novel VR experience
Along with learning opportunities, many of the participants said they felt confident in the VR environment and more comfortable networking with peers and leaders.
That was an unintended, positive consequence of the pilot, explained Vlora Muslimi, Senior Manager, Ideation and Colleague Innovation.
Muslimi shared that the idea for the whole pilot came from an iD8 Tech Jam – an internal innovation-focused business case challenge that's part of the Bank's colleague ideation program. In the session, participating teams had the opportunity to present a case for engaging personal banking customers in VR.
The compelling cases became the inspiration for Muslimi to develop the TD Virtual Reality Co-op and Intern Pilot Program. She thought that students – not customers – would be an ideal group for a pilot since they're digital natives who are used to adopting new technology.
While the final product turned out differently than the Tech Jam submissions, the colleague-focused pilot still addressed many of the themes present in that initial brief, namely:
- Addressing physical barriers to in-person spaces, including geography
- Customizable, purpose-driven spaces to meet the needs of those who use them
- Personalized immersive spaces that make for a positive VR experience
- Secure and safe communities
Bringing the VR experience to life through colleague-led innovation
The pivot to a colleague focus took collaboration. Muslimi's team in Innovation worked closely with the Early Talent Experience team, led by Meghan Hardy, Senior Manager, Student & Graduate Experience – to create an innovative pilot that merged a burgeoning digital platform with a robust learning experience for interns and co-op students.
“This partnership could not have come at a better time," Hardy said. "Our team was looking for ways to increase our virtual programming engagement, and also promote TD as an innovative and forward-thinking workplace to our Early Talent demographic."
"We put the pitch together and requested funding from the innovation council," added Muslimi. "I remember I was at the airport last July when I got the good news!"
The two teams worked together to build the program, looking at how to bring the TD brand to life in a VR space, how to make it an inclusive experience and how the VR space could facilitate meaningful connections between colleagues.
Instead of mimicking TD locations in the real world, Muslimi said they went in a more fantastical direction to infuse a sense of wonder and awe into the experience – and take advantage of VR's novelty and capabilities.
"There is a lot of freedom and opportunity presented to us with virtual reality. We can look out the window and see the rice fields of Vietnam or the beautiful seaside of Montenegro," she said.
Building meaningful connections in VR
While never meant to replace in-person experience, Hardy continues to see VR as an opportunity to bring interns and co-op students together in a more personalized and immersive manner, especially if they're working in locations across the country.
And the results, she said, spoke for themselves. Along with enhancing the student experience at TD, Hardy saw higher engagement rates with VR compared to virtual programming on video calling platforms.
"Outside of the scheduled events we had planned, we were excited to see students were meeting up on their own time in the virtual TD spaces we created to network during the work day," she said, giving her and her team another way to meaningfully engage new colleagues working primarily from home.