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What is the Future of Work in the Metaverse?

Key Takeaways

1. While many of of us know the term largely as a buzzword or science fiction idea, the next major step in the future of work may well lie in the metaverse – a range of 3D simulated digital worlds in which workers can engage and interact through a virtual office equivalent of on-site space.

2. The current metaverse does not yet duplicate the completely seamless and ultra-real ideal virtual world shown in science fiction stories. But it does already offer a number of feasible and useful working options, and some companies have already integrated metaverse virtual offices into their normal working structures and practices.

3. The virtual office and the metaverse offer many advantages over existing models of remote, on-site or hybrid work, while limiting some of the disadvantages. Working in the metaverse has the potential to save money, promote social engagement and spontaneous discussions, and fully integrate the workforce on a level platform.

4. At the same time, working entirely in the metaverse also opens the door to the potential stresses of more time online, more potential over-monitoring by management, and the difficulties of managing working behaviors and standards in a space where social rules and normal practices have not yet been put in place.

5. With the mass remote working experiment resulting from COVID pandemic lockdowns in 2020-21, new companies and their investors have moved into the virtual office and metaverse development space, injecting further money and research into technology and software. This investment may well bear profitable fruit in the coming decade, both for providers and business users of the metaverse.  

With remote, hybrid and virtual work now integrated in many companies around the world, work in the metaverse comes ever closer to being a mainstream option, combining the advantages of both remote and on-site working models and taking them to a higher level.

From observing workplace trends, work in the metaverse is in many ways the next logical step for common existing modes of working. But what is the metaverse? And how do we work in it? This article explores key facts and themes which may be of interest to business leaders who want to keep pace with the latest in workforce technologies and patterns.

 
What is a virtual reality office?

A virtual reality office is an online analogue of an onsite office, offering many of the same features and facilities that workers enjoy on-site but in virtual form. This could include:

 

  • Virtual desk space
  • Workers might log into a set desk space in a virtual office each day with an avatar showing their presence to colleagues.
  • Virtual conversation
  • Workers may have the ability to turn around their avatar and chat with colleagues nearby, approach and join a spontaneous gathering in a virtual corner, or make an announcement to the whole office.
  • Virtual events
  • Meetings and conferences could be created and attended with minimal logistical effort, with venues and meeting rooms of the right size and design created as needed, and accessible from all over the world.

Virtual office and immersive technology platform businesses have seen a wave of major investment in the last few years since the COVID pandemic lockdowns sparked mass remote working around the globe. For example, the start-up Gather has raised $77 million, while Teamflow, another start-up, raised $50 million. Longer-standing virtual office company Virbela saw its revenues increase by 260% in the second quarter of 2020.

What is the metaverse?

The ‘metaverse’ is a term which originally comes from science fiction. It’s commonly used to describe a range of simulated 3D digital environments or worlds, where virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), social media and other virtual concepts may be networked to create a sophisticated shared user experience. 

The full realization of the metaverse would be a virtual world in which people could chat, travel, work or play in a manner parallel to physical reality. This fully embodied and seamlessly interconnected virtual network is not yet a reality.

Existing manifestations of the metaverse may be used for a range of purposes including gaming (e.g. Second Life), conferences and events, or regular working. Some companies have already incorporated virtual offices or more sophisticated metaverse-type environments into their working structures.

For example, for fast-growing real estate brokerage EXP, the virtual office has been their principle place of business since day 1 and an even fuller metaverse experience might only be a small extension of existing models. 

In most cases, moving wholesale into a metaverse set-up is not yet a feasible or desirable replacement for existing models of on-site, remote or hybrid working, supported by tools such as the internet and collaborative working platforms. (Wearing VR headsets or navigating complex online environments for 8 hours each day is unlikely to be acceptable to the majority of the office workforce.)

In the near future, as 3D VR and AR technologies continue to advance in step with the normalization of remote / virtual working, we can probably expect work in the metaverse to go mainstream. When this happens, there could be advantages for intelligent early adopters who understand both the current limitations and the future opportunities. 

What are the benefits of work in the metaverse?

The metaverse offers and amplifies many of the benefits of standard remote working. It also retains some of the advantages of on-site working models, and extends these to remote workers, potentially boosting their motivation and engagement

Benefits include:

  • Reduced rental and running costs
  • Companies operating a virtual office do not need to rent as much office space in the real world, or pay real world costs around utilities, furniture, office supplies etc. 
  • Cash and time savings for workers
  • When attending a virtual office, workers will not need to pay commuting costs, or spend time moving between office and home. This time and cash saving could enhance staff work-life balance and engagement in their work. 
  • Intuitive interaction
  • 3D virtual spaces offer the opportunity for workers and clients to interact simply and directly with 3D models of products, places and people. This is a richer, more intuitive experience than current remote working can provide.
  • Visibility and efficiency
  • Seeing colleagues and managers moving around in virtual form may give a greater sense of being part of an organization and team. This visibility also allows for spontaneous conversation, questions and answers, just as in an on-site office, allowing issues to be quickly resolved, or tasks to be immediately distributed.
  • More natural socialization
  • In standard remote working, conversations and meetings are scheduled and incorporated into online workflows. Team building and social engagements must be artificially staged (e.g. online quizzes and other team events). The metaverse allows more natural social interaction for remote workers. For example, a worker’s avatar might turn and chat to someone “sitting” beside them, or spontaneously join an informal work huddle in the corner.

What are the potential downsides of work in the metaverse?

The metaverse does not come without its problems, some of which are inherent and others which might be ironed out as rules and norms develop around operating in the virtual office and the metaverse environment.

Downsides include:

  • Longer times spent online
  • The idea of spending a full day online in a virtual office may seem negative and stressful to workers who may already feel overwhelmed by Zoom meetings, emails, and keeping up with workflows on collaborative working platforms. Long periods of online time might also affect the eyes and concentration.
  • Provision, training and acceptance of new equipment and software
  • While the ideal is that metaverse working should be seamless and easy to access, current options may require the use of special VR headsets and computer software. In the future, there is likely to be simpler metaverse accessibility.  
  • Lack of rules and governance in virtual spaces
  • With the metaverse and virtual spaces still relatively novel to many, there may be a guidance vacuum around how to work and behave in the metaverse (e.g. what might be seen as rude or unacceptable). Rules and norms are needed in order to maintain task coherence and positive behaviors, while maintaining worker engagement and wellbeing, and preventing harassment or bullying.  
  • Privacy and monitoring concerns
  • Companies operating entirely in a single virtual space have greater opportunity and means for monitoring the presence and activity of their staff. While supportive tracking of performance in remote teams is constructive, over-monitoring can be stressful for workers and ultimately counter-productive, resulting in lowered engagement and productivity. 

A final word…

Horizons operates in over 150 countries worldwide, with considerable experience of supporting remote work through virtual offices. This makes Horizons well placed to advise and assist companies wanting to take their first steps into the metaverse. Get in touch today to discuss how your business might integrate a virtual office or prepare for the future of metaverse access.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

 

Yes, you can work in the metaverse. Work in the metaverse is already part of ordinary life at some companies, either integrated alongside partial remote and on-site working, or in a few cases entirely replacing these options. The future of work in the metaverse is currently a hot topic and an area where we can expect to see major developments as relevant technologies advance.

The metaverse is a concept which evolved from early 1990s science fiction and commonly describes a set of simulated 3D digital worlds in which virtual reality, augmented reality, social media, blockchain, product models etc..  may all be be networked to create a sophisticated and intuitive shared user experience.

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