Advice and Opinion

The metaverse: how will this tech paradigm impact the future of work?

Most employees do not want to be in-person and full-time in the office, regardless of the pandemic and their employers’ ‘will-they-wont-they’ office plans.

Some major stakeholders want to improve remote and hybrid work by creating constant, digital spaces that you can log into as some form of avatar i.e., the new definition of the virtual office.

Although the term ‘metaverse’ was coined in 1992 by Sci-Fi novelist Neal Stephenson, it has only just entered mainstream vocab after Facebook changed its name to ‘Meta’ to reflect its strategic focus.

However, given that there is no singular definition of what a metaverse is, and there will be many competing metaverses transforming our experience of social media, electronic commerce and how we collaborate and transact online, it is important that leaders start to understand the profound ways in which this new tech paradigm is set to radically impact the future of work.

Metaverses are immersive 3D digital worlds based on virtual reality gaming experiences. Multiplayer online games such as Fortnite already have many of the characteristics that make up a metaverse, including the ability to buy and sell digital inventory using tokens and crypto currencies.

Metaverses are more expansive than closed online games. They allow players to enter using their real-life identities and to use these platforms to work as well as shop, play, and hang out.

These digital worlds enable international teams to collaborate on projects face-to-face in an immersive shared environment by using avatars and intuitive collaboration tools. It creates a feeling of being ‘present’ in the room, which is especially useful for organisations adapting to the hybrid way of working.

Companies that take this approach are more inclined to focus on outputs and quality of deliverables than processes and inputs. They understand that the ‘old office-bound 9 to 5’ workday is no longer practical in a globalised, digital world. Being confined to a desk for a set time each day is inefficient and counterproductive.

Flexible work models allow employees to be more agile, proactive, and creative in their approach to finding a solution, helping to manage their priorities and deliverables effectively. As a result, employees have fewer conflicts, and less stress means generally happier more content employees which positively impacts their productivity.

According to Gartner’s ‘Top Priority for HR Leaders 2021’, employers will shift from managing the employee experience to managing the employee life experience.

For organisations, metaverses promise to create more realistic, and therefore more productive, immersive meetings made possible with 3D virtual reality headsets. Microsoft is already rolling out Mesh for Microsoft Teams to make online collaborations more fun and effective through helping people connect in less impersonal ways, for example, through sharing body language, having water cooler conversations and engaging more in team meetings.

A better understanding

In order to understand the way in which metaverses will change the future of work, leaders must first understand the digital platforms which provide the foundations on which these digital worlds are built.

Alternative forms of metaverses are being developed which will be open, decentralised, and which have the purpose of protecting the rights and privacy of those individuals which will inhabit and use the technology. The distinction between ‘open’ and ‘closed’ is absolutely critical in terms of understanding how the internet is evolving and thereby, changing the very nature of work.

The fact that many metaverses will be open and decentralised means that every organisation will have to understand how their current business models, even if they are digital, will be disrupted.

Providing employees with access to flexible workspaces is one way to mitigate the cybersecurity risks posed by home working, which can include poorly protected Wi-Fi networks.    

All of IWG’s flexible workspaces, including Regus and Spaces locations, have business-grade Wi-Fi as standard, as well as stringent security systems that are continuously checked for resilience. 

Even though our offices have different companies using the same network, we make sure that one client cannot connect to another [via that] network,” says IWG’s MD, South Africa, Joanne Bushell.

And while we don’t touch our clients’ data, we do provide them with different network services, all of which have security embedded”.

We use penetration testers, also known as professional hackers: a specialist team who go into centres and test the systems. If a new service is installed or product released, we’ll bring in the team and they’ll try to break it. We are continually checking everything behind the scenes to provide a flawless customer experience”, she adds.

The convergence of metaverses, digital platforms, crypto currencies, data analytics and decentralised and open applications will see a new incarnation of the internet that will mean that organisations need to prepare for new job roles that do not currently exist.

The nature of metaverses will mean that there will be an exponential explosion in the amount and quality of personal data collected and analysed. This will mean that organisations will require metaverse analysts who use artificial intelligence and deep analytical tools to augment strategic-level decision-making.

It is important to note that Facebook’s own research has already shown that people are wary of full integrating their social media presence with their working lives in such a potentially intrusive manner. So, organisations will also need to understand the role that health and safety will play in immersive digital worlds, meaning that they will need demonstrate that data is secure and not hackable by the next generation of quantum computers.

Metaverse technology promises to produce imaginative and creative new ways for people to collaborate and work online. However, leaders will need to ensure that this vision of the future of work does not lead to burnout from employees spending excessive amounts of time immersed in virtual worlds. Hybrid working will no longer be about the home-workplace split but about achieving equilibrium between the virtual and the physical world. HR will need to develop new hybrid working policies to ensure healthy metaverse working practices.

Metaverses promises to be a powerful creative canvases to enable organisations to imagine incredible new offerings for customers and exciting new ways of working and collaborating for employees. Those organisations which will flourish in the future will be those which are able to engage a new generation of talented transdisciplinary metaverse professionals by focusing on the human dimension as much as the technological, building purposeful innovation cultures based on a more flexible, humanised, and conscious approach to work.