Working remotely has proven to be quite beneficial for many companies and employees alike. In the last few years, many of us have transitioned away from the traditional in-person workplace entirely. Zoom, Slack, and email have become workers’ strongest tools. Gone are the days of watercooler chats and team happy hours. Instead, we have virtual team holiday parties where everyone flaunts their favorite ironic mugs and comically large wine glasses.
Finally, it feels like we have a new normal to settle into. Enter stage left: Mark Zuckerberg and the metaverse. If you’re a frequent visitor to BrandResumes’ HR Corner, you’ll often read articles talking about the future of work being on the horizon. A phrase that seems to continue to stick. Now, it seems like our new normal will soon be overhauled once again. Or will it? Let’s examine what a metaverse workplace may look like and what your team needs to know.
What is the “metaverse”?
I should begin by saying that I am no economist, futurist, technologist, or any other similar title ending in an “ist.” I am, however, a self-titled skeptic. When I first heard of the metaverse, my initial thought was of memories from my childhood. Playing online through Club Penguin, Minecraft, etc. You would design your character, log in to a server, and begin exploring through the digital world playing games, earning points, purchasing items, and interacting with strangers. Classic child-friendly fun.
But you didn’t arrive at this article to hear about my childhood memories, so what does “metaverse” mean exactly? Well, it isn’t necessarily a breakthrough idea for starters. Anyone familiar with online gaming has already immersed themselves in plenty of different “metaverses.” Fortnite and World of Warcraft are some of the most popular.
You can think of a metaverse as a digital world of sorts. It is more complex than an online game server, but there are similarities. You would create a virtual persona that can be used to explore the digital landscape, interact with other users, acquire digital items, etc. You may even be able to use virtual reality headsets and accessories to more realistically interact with the online space.
Perhaps why this idea seems so confusing to some is because it really hasn’t been defined yet. This article from Wired does a nice job of describing it in its current state. Part of my skepticism really derives from the fact that the metaverse isn’t fully fleshed out yet. Advertisements from Zuckerberg’s team and reshared by The Guardian give a glimpse at what the metaverse could look like. Until I actually see it for myself, I’m going to consider it a far-off dream. So, how will this affect the workplace?
How would it be used in the workplace?
Unless you work for a Silicon Valley tech giant, you likely won’t’ have to worry about the metaverse for a long time, if ever. But knowing what it is and what it offers can surely help you stay well-informed in the future of work conversations. Let’s discuss how the metaverse applies to the workplace.
What the metaverse workplace looks like
Picture this: you wake up an hour before work since you don’t have to commute. You put on a comfortable outfit expecting to spend much of your day sitting in the same spot unless, of course, you have a full VR-compatible treadmill. Once you’ve poured yourself a nice cup of coffee, you turn on your computer and slip on a virtual reality headset. A digital world comes alive before your eyes. (Try not to think about how you’ll drink your coffee if you can’t see it with a headset on, just enjoy the visual).
First things first, you need to decide what digital outfit your avatar will be wearing. You ask your virtual assistant what your schedule looks like for the day. You’ll be meeting internally with your human resources team but no meetings with the c-suite, so you decide to go with something business casual. It appears in a flash on your avatar.
For the first meeting of the day, you have your avatar travel to the digital conference room and watch your team members pop into the room one by one. Names are floating over the heads of each avatar to make sure you know who you are interacting with. All avatars take a seat, you turn your microphone on, and the meeting begins. The agenda floats freely in front of you, visible to all, but your personal notes float next to the agenda only visible to you, assuming you have the correct settings turned on.
Your day continues on in much of the same fashion. In your digital office, your virtual plants thrive and the ceiling to floor windows show a sunny, digital day regardless of the weather outside your home. When you type on your real-life keyboard, the words appear on the virtual screen in front of you. Perhaps a few of your employees request to visit your virtual office at points throughout the day. Others send you a chat message if the question will be quick.
Finally, the day is over and you remove your VR headset. Back to reality.
That was a nice visual, wasn’t it? Now, let’s discuss whether that is an accurate depiction of what the metaverse workplace may look like with a few pros and cons.
The pros of a metaverse workplace
Let’s start with the positives or what I imagine them to be.
- Employees can continue to work from home with more options for interaction. In previous articles, we’ve discussed how many employees prefer a work-from-home scenario as opposed to the traditional in-office setting. It is also beneficial for employees to have real interactions with one another, ergo why so many leaders push for cameras on during Zoom meetings. A digital working world can help bring these two contradicting concepts together.
- Digital workspaces allow employees to have more control over their workspace in a way that works best for them. Much like people learn best in different ways, they also work best in different ways. A metaverse workplace allows for so much customization and accommodation for any type of employee. Whether that means turning a digital office into a tropical oasis that helps with employee satisfaction or being able to mute all distractions to increase productivity, customization really can be a catch-all for your team regardless of their preferences.
- The metaverse is limitless. The fact that the metaverse isn’t really up and running quite yet leaves room for endless possibilities and creativity. It has room to grow and adapt to our needs as technology advances. If the metaverse is pursued, there is no telling what it may look like in five years, 10 years, or even 20 years. It’s both exciting and maybe even a bit terrifying depending on who you ask.
The cons of a metaverse workplace
Again, for full transparency, I will remind you that I am a bit skeptical of a metaverse workplace. As such, my opinion may seem biased, but I think it is also entirely realistic.
- Not all workers have the proper technology. When in a Zoom meeting, how often do you watch the frozen faces of your team members? How frequently are you or your employees repeating yourselves because the audio cut out? How about the popular, “Internet is slow, turning my camera off to see if it helps!” For many of us, technology is not yet ready for the metaverse, which leads me to my next point…
- It requires an investment of time and money. Many do not have the technology necessary to make a metaverse workplace run smoothly. VR headsets alone cost around $300 as of 2022. Ensuring everyone has the proper equipment and the training to use it is going to be a large investment, at least at first. However, this condition is subject to change as technology advances.
- It may possess no real benefit. While we can fantasize about how great a metaverse workplace could be, we don’t know for certain. Perhaps, it makes it even more distracting for employees or increases burnout. Until we can see it in action, there is no telling for certain which way the scales will tip.
- Employees may be opposed. Staring at a screen 40-hours a week is already exhausting. If I had to wear a clunky headset with a screen two inches from my eyes for the same amount of time, I think I would lose my mind. If your workforce is comprised of skeptics, such as myself, it may not be an easy sell. And as we saw during The Great Resignation, employees are not afraid to leave a job when they disagree with how the company runs.
- It does not yet exist. While some companies are beginning to test the virtual waters of a digital workforce, it isn’t quite ready for the masses. Again, this one is a pro-con. The possibilities are endless and so are the pitfalls.
Is the metaverse really the future?
It may come as no surprise that after reading this article, I don’t personally believe that the metaverse will pan out as intended, at least not for a long time. Perhaps it is because I grew up with films such as Wall-E and Ready Playe One, where our protagonists are navigating the post-apocalyptic worlds where humans have given up and turned to fake, digital realities. In these narratives, the resolution comes from humanity realizing it was wrong to abandon the real world and its problems. Much like the Jurassic Park franchise, the films seem like a pretty strong (although drastic) argument against these scientific experiments.
Am I wrong? Maybe. It’s entirely possible. And if I am wrong, I hope someone will point out this article when it happens and we’ll have a laugh. But, I may be right. Only time will tell. If you’re interested in another metaverse opinion, consider reading this article from Protocol.
Whether you agree or disagree, leave us a comment on your thoughts regarding the metaverse workplace. Not long ago, we were discussing the pros and cons of AI in the workplace, now we’re discussing an entire metaverse. There’s no telling what new technology will bring next.