The possibilities stretch across every aspect of our real, physical lives. But perhaps the area where the metaverse will have the most impact and drive the most change in how we traditionally operate in and experience our lives is the world of work. The metaverse will bring rampant change to our working lives—but will they be for the better? Here’s a look at what the metaverse can offer us in the way of progress, as well as what’s potentially at stake.
Working in the metaverse: What are the advantages?
Working in the metaverse offers some intriguing advantages. As the pandemic has shown, organizations can thrive with alternative working arrangements, from full-time remote to hybrid working setups. The pandemic has also shown that people like to work this way, and enjoy the benefits that not enduring a lengthy commute each day to and from the office have on their well-being, work/life balance, and general mental health.
Giving employees more autonomy over their schedules and routines during the day has shown to increase productivity and job satisfaction—for example, many people report having relied on a daily nap during the pandemic, and some offices are now providing napping areas to keep this routine for their workers. The metaverse, in theory, will provide a unique experience of working remotely but feeling as though you are present—or, at least your avatar—in a working space in which you can interact with colleagues, manipulate products and plans for work projects, and get the feeling of a live, interactive collaborative work experience without leaving your home.
Internet technology from the onset made work more flexible, in terms of where and how we work. Although the capability to work remotely has been there for decades, the pandemic provided the watershed moment for a real cultural shift in how we think about work beyond the traditional 9-5 office mentality. And the metaverse enables myriad ways to alleviate the challenges that can arise from remote work.
There are plenty of immediately obvious factors that make working in the metaverse alluring—benefits that transcend the sci-fi ‘cool’ factor and provide advantages on a practical scale. Here are some of the advantages to working in the metaverse:
Enhance the seamlessness of remote work.
Working face-to-face provides more insight, via body language predominately, into how clients and team members are feeling. This lack of in-person interaction can make communication less effective. But the metaverse goes beyond mere telecommuting as we know it, allowing for more engagement in a 3D environment where avatars of employees can gather just as they would in the ‘real world.’ This type of visibility and connectedness has a measurable, positive impact on team productivity.
Visualise and solve problems in 3D.
From healthcare to construction, architecture to life sciences, visual problem solving is key to success in many industries. In the metaverse, 3D visual modeling provides a unique means of developing and problem-solving, collaborating and creating that is cost-effective and precise. A team of architects, for example, can create mock-ups that are matched to real-world specs, and make informed decisions based on these models.
Gain from infinite space and interoperability.
While the metaverse mimics the real world, it has the advantage of being endlessly expandable. You can add as much space and as many features as you require to operate your business, from whiteboards to conference room space. You can keep growing without any infrastructure costs.
Remove dependence on hardware.
Conferencing equipment will be a thing of the past in the metaverse, where employees—or rather, their 3D avatars—can meet face-to-face without the need for additional hardware. Digital whiteboards and digital workstations will replace the current need for investment in such equipment.
Disadvantages to working in the metaverse
Skeptics have many concerns about what this digital work experience in the metaverse might bring. Privacy is one issue. Without the traditional, physical office space, employers may seek new ways to monitor their employees, some of which can cross privacy lines. Tom Novak, senior behavioral analyst at Canvas8, recently tweeted: “Companies may be able to surveil #workers, including their moods. Kurt Opsahl, general counsel of Electronic Frontier Foundation, a #privacy-watchdog group, says that virtual workplace software could lead to more employee tracking, some of which sounds creepy. If the #software is tracking your eye movement, for example, an eye-roll could be logged, or even matched with biometric data to provide clues about your emotional state.”
Another potential disadvantage, or at least a hurdle that needs to be overcome, is the clunkiness and expense of current hardware that will be necessary to unlock the potential of the metaverse. Bill Gates is prioritizing the issue of refining and making available—and attractive—these tools.
“The idea is that you will eventually use your avatar to meet with people in a virtual space that replicates the feeling of being in an actual room with them,” Gates wrote on his blog at the end of last year. “To do this, you’ll need something like VR goggles and motion capture gloves to accurately capture your expressions, body language, and the quality of your voice. Most people don’t own these tools yet, which will slow adoption somewhat. (One of the things that enabled the rapid change to video meetings was the fact that many people already had PCs or phones with cameras.) Microsoft plans to roll out an interim version next year, which uses your webcam to animate an avatar that’s used in the current 2D set-up.”
Which companies are embracing the metaverse?
The big names you’ll find promoting and advancing the metaverse are Microsoft and of course Facebook (Meta). Meta itself has invested $10 billion into the development and acquisition of hardware and software to support its metaverse vision, including VR capabilities and AR technologies.
Earlier this year, Microsoft announced it would be acquiring Activision Blizzard, video-game developer and publisher, as a first step to claiming territory in the metaverse. This $70 billion deal is the largest ever for Microsoft, and a sign that the metaverse is where it’s laying its bets in coming years. Google CEO Sundar Pichai is also expressing his company’s interest in AI going forward, despite the somewhat fiasco that was 2014’s Google Glasses.
But it’s not just tech industries. In terms of digital shopping, Shopify has its sights set on dominating the AR shopping space. In the fashion world, the Balenciaga brand embraced the metaverse in 2021 by offering digital outfits inspired by the actual Balenciaga line for purchase in a virtual boutique in the game Fortnite. Museums, musicians, and the sports industry are also getting involved, organizing events and enhancing viewer experiences. Blockchain projects Decentraland and The Sandbox started the virtual real estate market with multi-million dollar sales.
Not everyone believes the hype of the metaverse, or indeed feels creating a virtual world that runs in parallel to the real one is what people ultimately want. Gaming development company Take-Two’s CEO Strauss Zelnick expressed his doubts in a 2021 interview, telling CNBC, “I’m skeptical that we’re going to wake up in the morning and intentionally sit at home, strap on our headsets and conduct all of our daily activities that way. We had to do that during the pandemic, and we don’t really like it so much.”
However, much data supports the benefits we experienced when more flexible working arrangements were not only possible but required, and it feels inevitable that the tools and technology that comprise the metaverse vision will have a large impact on how, when, and with whom we work. Perhaps the biggest challenge will be remembering to live as fully in the real world as we will be able to in the metaverse.