The remote distributed workplace of today is already vastly different from what we could have imagined just a couple of years ago, but this is nothing compared to the changes being ushered in by the metaverse.
The 3D internet and the technologies surrounding it promise radical new levels of social connectedness, mobility, and collaboration inside a virtual workplace that still sounds like science fiction to actually come true.
“Imagine a world where you could have a beachside conversation with your colleagues, take meeting notes while floating around a space station, or teleport from your office in London to New York, all without taking a step outside your front door,” invites Mark Purdy, an economics and technology advisor writing in the Harvard Business Review.
The implications of the emerging metaverse for the world of work have received little attention, he contends, yet companies everywhere need to get ready or get bypassed by talent and innovation.
He identifies four major ways future work will morph. These are: new immersive forms of team collaboration; the emergence of AI-enabled colleagues; the acceleration of learning and skills acquisition; and the eventual rise of a metaverse economy with completely new work roles.
The metaverse may be a wild frontier, but here at NAB Amplify we’ve got you covered! Hand-selected from our archives, here are some of the essential insights you’ll need to expand your knowledge base and confidently explore the new horizons ahead:
- What Is the Metaverse and Why Should You Care?
- Avatar to Web3: An A-Z Compendium of the Metaverse
- The Metaverse is Coming To Get You. Is That a Bad Thing?
- Don’t Expect the Metaverse to Happen Overnight
- A Framework for the Metaverse from Hardware to Hollywood and Everything in Between
I confess to being deeply skeptical that many of these ideas will actually contribute to be a better working environment. Being stuck inside a virtual office interacting with an AI-bot seems neither fun nor productive, nor particularly conducive to great team building and, in fact, seems to mask the drudgery of work, serving only to cut the costs of companies spending money on real-life infrastructure to house their workers and to facilitate round-the-clock surveillance.
But Purdy has amassed quite a collection of activity in support of his more outlandish claims, which do seem to point in the direction of significant change.
So, let’s take a look.
Teamwork and Collaboration in the Metaverse
The metaverse promises to bring new levels of social connection, mobility, and collaboration to a world of virtual work. For evidence we can look to NextMeet based in India and described as an avatar-based immersive reality platform.
With it, employee “digital avatars” can pop in and out of virtual offices and meeting rooms in real-time, walk up to a virtual help desk, give a live presentation, relax with colleagues in a networking lounge, or roam an exhibition using a customizable avatar.
Participants access the virtual environment via their desktop computer or mobile device, pick or design their avatar, and then use keyboard buttons to navigate the space: arrow keys to move around, double click to sit on a chair, and so forth.
Speaking to Purdy, Pushpak Kypuram, founder-director of NextMeet, gives the example of employee onboarding: “If you’re onboarding 10 new colleagues and show or give them a PDF document to introduce the company, they will lose concentration after 10 minutes. What we do instead is have them walk along a 3D hall or gallery, with 20 interactive stands, where they can explore the company. You make them want to walk the virtual hall, not read a document.”
Other metaverse companies are emphasizing workplace solutions that help counter video meeting fatigue and the social disconnectedness of remote work.
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One of them is PixelMax, a UK-based startup that is developing technology that mimics the social interactions you’d experience in a real office. For example, it facilitates those chance encounters with colleagues in the corridors or water cooler and provides a “panoramic sweep” of the office floor so you can quickly see where colleagues are located (and who to avoid….)
The ultimate vision, according to PixelMax co-founder Andy Sands, is to enable work-based avatars to port between virtual worlds.
“It’s about community building, conversations and interactions,” he explains. “We want to enable worker avatars to move between a manufacturing world and an interior design world, or equally take that avatar and go and watch a concert in Roblox and Fortnite.”
Purdy argues that virtual workplaces can provide a better demarcation between home and work life, “creating the sensation of walking into the workplace each day and then leaving and saying goodbye to colleagues when your work is done.”
What’s more a virtual office doesn’t have to mimic most people’s experience of a “drab, uniform corporate environment” when you can have a beach location, an ocean cruise, or even another world?
Outlandish? VR platform Gather is already offering ‘dream offices’ that allows employees and organizations to ‘build their own office’ whether that’s a “Space-Station Office” with views of planet Earth or “The Pirate Office,” complete with ocean views, a Captain’s Cabin, and a Forecastle Lounge for socializing.
Introducing Your Digital Colleague
It’s almost a given that future work (and social) interactions will be carried out by a digital avatar of ourselves. Increasingly, these digi-selves will be joined by an array of automated digi-colleagues — “highly realistic, AI-powered, human-like bots.”
One example is UneeQ, a “digital humans” creator behind Nola, a digital shopping assistant, and Rachel, an always-on mortgage adviser.
AI-bots are also developing human-like emotions (using expression rendering, gaze direction, and real-time gesturing) “to create lifelike, emotionally-responsive digital humans.
Purdy reckons these AI agents will act as advisors and assistants, doing much of the heavy lifting of work in the metaverse and, in theory, freeing up human workers for more productive, value-added tasks. In theory.
Ultimately, they could force humans out of work because “they don’t take coffee breaks, can be deployed in multiple locations at once and can be deployed to more repetitive, dull, or dangerous work in the metaverse.”
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Faster Learning in the Metaverse
The aspect of virtual work life, which is already taking off and proving its worth, is in training and skills development. Purdy claims further advances and greater adoption will “drastically compress the time needed to develop and acquire new skills.”
“In the metaverse, every object — a training manual, machine, or product, for example — could be made to be interactive, providing 3D displays and step-by-step guides. VR role-play exercises and simulations will become common, enabling worker avatars to learn in highly realistic, ‘game play’ scenarios.”
There is research in the piece “VoRtex Metaverse Platform for Gamified Collaborative Learning” that suggests virtual-world training can offer important advantages over traditional instructor or classroom-based training, as it provides a greater scope for visually demonstrating concepts, a greater opportunity for learning by doing (the game becomes the lesson), and overall higher engagement through immersion in games and problem-solving through “quest-based” methods.
New Roles in the Metaverse Economy
Just as the internet has brought new roles that barely existed 20 years ago — such as digital marketing managers, social media advisors, and cyber-security profs — so, too, will the metaverse likely bring a vast swathe of new roles that we can only imagine today: “avatar conversation designers, holoporting travel agents to ease mobility across different virtual worlds, metaverse digital wealth management and asset managers,” says Purdy.
Not to mention, the plethora of creative activities geared around the creator economy. IMVU is an avatar-based social network with more than seven million users per month, has thousands of creators who make and sell their own virtual products for the metaverse — designer outfits, furniture, make-up, music, stickers, pets — generating around $7 million per month in revenues.
Challenges and Imperatives
Significant obstacles could still stymie any or all of this. The computing infrastructure and power requirements alone need to be upgraded for everyone to participate. The metaverse also brings a maze of regulatory and HR compliance issues, for example around bullying or harassment in the virtual world.
Purdy has the following guidance for companies that want to take heed.
Make portability of skills a priority: For workers, there will be concerns around portability of skills and qualifications: “Will experience or credentials gained in one virtual world or enterprise be relevant in another, or in my real-world life?” Employers, educators, and training institutions can create more liquid skills by agreeing upon properly certified standards for skills acquired in the metaverse, with appropriate accreditation of training providers.
Be truly hybrid: Enterprises must create integrated working models that allow employees to move seamlessly between physical, online, and 3D virtual working styles, using the consumer technologies native to the metaverse: avatars, gaming consoles, VR headsets, hand-track controllers with haptics and motion control that map the user’s position in the real world into the virtual world.
Yet this is only the start. Companies like Kat VR are developing virtual locomotion technologies such as leg attachments and treadmills to create realistic walking experiences.
Learn upwards: In designing their workplace metaverses, companies should look particularly to the younger generation, many of whom have grown up in a gaming, 3D, socially connected environment. “Reverse intergenerational learning — where members of the younger generation coach and train their older colleagues — could greatly assist the spread of metaverse-based working among the overall workforce.”
Only in passing does Purdy mention that “the metaverse will only be successful if it is deployed as a tool for employee engagement and experiences, not for supervision and control.”
While we might concur that the future of work is bound to change with the introduction of many more digital online components, the idea that all of this is progress is worth further examination.