Will we ever really work in the metaverse?
The rise of virtual worlds could help companies bring hybrid workforces together
The metaverse in 2022 has had its ups and downs.
Blockchain records show that US$ 1.9 billion of cryptocurrency was spent buying land in the dozens of virtual worlds that make up the metaverse. And major platforms pledged billions of dollars in investment toward making virtual reality a success in the decades to come.
But in recent months investor confidence has stalled. The number of users in some virtual worlds is much lower than anticipated, prompting broad scepticism about its future. While this is common among new technologies, it has begged the question: is the metaverse really going to take off?
Retail companies opening stores and entertainment firms creating virtual venues have so far been testing this question. But there are also large corporations contending with the future of hybrid work.
With more people now spending their weekdays between offices, homes, cafes and coworking spaces, companies are facing a raft of issues around collaboration, productivity, employee wellness and talent retention. The metaverse is one potential solution being considered by leaders, with over half of companies planning to introduce immersive technologies and virtual reality by 2025, according to a survey conducted by JLL.
“From the way we play games, shop and even exercise, immersive experiences are making their way into our lives,” says Sam Lavers, Director of Global Alliances at JLL Technologies (JLLT). “I think it’s just a matter of time until we’re regularly working in the metaverse.”
However, Lavers acknowledges there are plenty of challenges to overcome, including equipping people with the necessary training and equipment. Offering access to some people, but not everybody, could do more harm than good.
“Everyone should have equal access, or you risk creating further divisions in the workforce,” he says.
There’s also the aspect of privacy and safety. Ben Hamley, JLL’s Future of Work Lead in the Asia Pacific region, believes governance and regulation is rightly a hot topic.
“Setting out clear protocols around use, that cover wellbeing, security and data privacy – such as the type of personal information stored – will be key to reassuring companies and employees that the metaverse is a desirable and safe place to work.”
What success looks like
Workers already expect 60% of meetings in the future to combine virtual and physical elements, in part because hardware and software integrations are evolving rapidly. Take enterprise solution Meetingroom.io, which can be accessed from any device and lets users join meetings in virtual rooms complete with whiteboards.
Some big firms are already working in the metaverse. In 2021, Accenture bought 60,000 VR headsets for new-hire orientation and training. JPMorgan has created Onyx, a virtual lounge located in Decentraland, while Deloitte’s Virtual Campus in Virbela caters for both internal activities and international events.
“Companies with complex portfolios and dispersed global workforces who need to be highly collaborative stand to benefit the most – think banking, biotech and pharmaceuticals,” Lavers says. “Educating employees on the possibilities now will avoid culture shock when the time for wider metaverse adoption arrives.”
Hamley says firms that have had early success had a specific view on what they wanted to achieve.
“Is it to enhance existing practices, or experiment with new employee and customer experiences?” says Hamley. “Once the focus is clear, it’s about understanding if you have the talent and design capabilities to support these initiatives.”
The right stuff
Someday soon Hamley believes we’ll see new roles emerge such as “metaverse architects,” who would design branded corporate worlds, or “metaverse engagement officers” tasked with creating virtual experiences that build connections between employees and company culture.
Right now, expectations are much more tangible. While designers are excited about the seemingly limitless possibilities of the metaverse, the trappings of a successful business meeting that combines augmented, virtual and physical reality requires having the right gear. People won’t participate if the experience doesn’t live up to the hype, Hamley says.
This means investing in workplace video conferencing equipment, like spatial audio and cameras that can capture the activity in the room while algorithms rapidly layer it into the virtual digital-twin world in real time.
“Initially we’ll see corporate spaces kitted out, but as costs reduce, it will find its way into people’s homes – just like PCs and laptops did,” Lavers says.
The future is now
As organizations look to enhance team collaboration, while reducing environmental impact and travel costs, working in the metaverse could soon be commonplace. Moving forward, Lavers suggests viewing it as an evolution of company intranets.
“Instead of static Sharepoints, you create an immersive collaborative channel that goes beyond content,” he says. “Job applicants could even meet future colleagues in these virtual worlds during the recruitment process.”
For Hamley, the metaverse is already part of his workday. “Our Work Futures Practice and JLLT teams have been testing best practice while evaluating metaverse and VR platforms since early 2020,” he says.
Just as smart devices and the internet have revolutionized our lives, looking ahead Lavers believes the metaverse could be as important as Outlook. “Companies should be planning for it now, because if they wait 10 years, it could be too late,” he says.