By Phill Brown, Global Head of Market Intelligence at Resource Solutions, the global provider of workforce and advisory solutions
There’s a lot of excitement around the metaverse right now, with a growing number of businesses and brands entering this space, and considerable investments being made (Meta, parent company of Facebook, planned to invest $10bn in Metaverse components last year) . You are probably more familiar with examples of what the metaverse could be as there are a number of examples already around, Fortnite, Facebook Horizon, some may also remember Second Life from almost 20 years ago. All are examples of a persistent, shared universe, within which you can interact with others in a multitude of ways. More examples, away from gaming, and into the corporate world are either under trial or development.
It remains to be seen though, when and where exactly the hype will be matched by utility in reality and more pertinently how much of the buzz around the metaverse may translate into concrete value for companies. In this early adopter stage, businesses, especially those that aren’t in the tech space, are likely to have some reservations about the virtual reality platform – and will opt to watch industry-leaders and trailblazers pave the way and learn from any pitfalls they encounter.
The current challenge is to make all existing iterations of the metaverse, and more, interoperable with each other, at which point the metaverse will truly come into existence. Here are some of the considerations that have already become clear, as well as the opportunities that the metaverse could unlock for businesses and their employees.
Concerns over employee wellbeing
A recent experiment from the New Scientist had 18 volunteers spend a week working in the metaverse, using VR headsets – two dropped out within a few hours while the rest reported feelings of frustrations by the end. Evidently, virtual worlds may not yet be suitable for extended periods of time or everyday use, or it may be that we have some way to go before people can feel accustomed to plugging into another world without experiencing feelings of nausea or anxiety. At this stage in time, then, the metaverse is more likely to serve as a platform to host and enhance one-time events, conferences, or training sessions – rather than a replacement for emails, Teams calls and in-person brainstorms and collaborative work.
Safety and security in the metaverse
Employers need to be aware that, at the moment, early versions may be poorly regulated. When using the metaverse, companies should be aware of the safety of both their employees and clients, and how secure any business-sensitive information will be.
Whilst the objective may be how to translate all the positive and productive elements of the workplace into a virtual environment, how do we ensure that the negative and destructive elements are left at the virtual door?
Companies will need to think about and act upon their responsibilities in this new environment, is it inside or outside the work environment? How far does duty of care extend? There are many operational policies and contractual clauses to amend and update!
Team bonding through avatars
Looking ahead, as remote and hybrid work patterns become the norm, we can envisage how the metaverse might be adopted as an extension of, or alternative to the traditional workplace. Many businesses are predicted to migrate part or all of their team meetings into the Metaverse – be it for weekly catchups or happy hour drinks. Two years into the global pandemic and collective work-from-home experiment, many of us are experiencing Zoom-fatigue. The metaverse offers a new camera-free platform to interact and socialise with colleagues through personalised avatars and even NFT suits and ties.
Onboarding and training enhanced
In the same way that VR and AR technology are already being deployed for training purposes, the metaverse may further enhance remote group workshops and the onboarding experience for newcomers. At a time of staff shortages and mass resignations, meetings in the virtual world hold the potential to increase employee engagement and retention. Businesses that can offer this new form of networking are likely to appeal to Millennial and Gen Z candidates and may attract more talent as a result.
Tools like flight simulators and military applications of VR technology for training have been around for some time. More recently, however, we’ve seen new applications in more mainstream industries. An early adopter was retail giant, Walmart, who collaborated with California-based software developer, Strivr, to offer their 1 million employees in-store VR training, using role-playing scenarios.
Going further, the applications of VR for training purposes have even started to extend beyond the remit of an employee’s job description. For instance, Vantage Point has developed VR training content to help businesses tackle racism and sexual harassment and create a safer and more inclusive workplace for their employees. The technology places trainees into virtual environments that offers an immersive experience that provides a level of experience that dramatically increases the speed of learning.
So, what’s next?
Whether working in the metaverse will ever become in situ of face-to-face, in-person meetings in the office remains to be seen. It’s too soon to tell exactly whether smaller and less-tech orientated businesses will see the value in investing in avatars and nonfungible tokens for their staff – particularly with little evidence at the moment that this will improve productivity or employee wellbeing.
While work patterns have forever shifted since the pandemic, the return-to-work trend is undeniable, making the need for alternative ways to connect online with colleagues less of a priority. For those companies that have adopted a permanent work-from-anywhere policy, however, hosting business meetings in one same online space may prove to be a vital way of bringing together colleagues through a shared learning environment.
Equally, as sustainability increasingly features at the top of every business agenda, the metaverse offers an environmentally-friendly and cost-effective alternative to flying staff across the globe for conferences or business proposals.
In today’s climate though, companies may also need to consider how well received it would be for staff to know that their employer is investing in a non-essential tech add-on at a time when the cost of living crisis is front of mind for most households in the UK and abroad. I would imagine that those considering putting their chips into the metaverse may decide put this idea on hold until the economic reality changes for the better.