- Metaverse applications are hitting the mainstream with many targeting workplaces and workers.
- The lines between the office and home are now increasingly blurred thanks to the metaverse.
- The metaverse needs careful management to promote the health of workers.
It’s one word with many definitions, depending on who you ask. Microsoft calls it “a persistent digital world”. Alibaba Cloud says it’s “the next generation of the internet”. Facebook, well, they took things even further with the company’s recent rebrand to Meta.
Semantics aside, the metaverse fuses the real and virtual worlds, giving users a 3D space to meet, shop, and do everything that you can on the internet, and more. It’s just now you don’t just interact with that world through a screen, you can be part of it thanks to the wonders of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).
In fact, the metaverse is where VR and AR could finally get their moment in the Sun, after years of languishing in the tech doldrums.
Justin Hochberg, CEO and co-founder of metaverse creation company Virtual Brand Group, said: “To me, the metaverse is the perfect trifecta of platform capability, consumer scale, and deep engagement that is simply better than anything that has ever come before it. And it’s actually now. Billions of people are playing, living in it every day.”
“Bill Gates once said to my team in the early days of interactive TV, ‘Being early is the same as being wrong’. We were too early then for that. But we aren’t for the metaverse.”
It’s a good point.
The worlds of VR and AR (not to mention consumer attitudes towards these technologies) have come a long way since the early days of Google Glass (anyone else remember those?).
In fact, the fate of the metaverse very much rests in the hands of the devices we use to access it. Just as desktops were usurped by mobile devices as the primary means to access the internet, pundits are predicting that VR headsets, AR glasses and other such wearables will be our primary way to access the metaverse in the future – and when we do, a wealth of new opportunities lie before us.
What about the world of work?
How will work be impacted by the metaverse? We’re already seeing modest moves into this space. Microsoft, for example, announced plans to let users of its Teams collaboration platform to appear as avatars in video meetings.
But will such efforts just fall flat on their (virtual) faces?
Actually, the world of work could be the perfect environment to introduce the metaverse to the masses as workers become increasingly comfortable with new forms of virtual interaction, according to Microsoft execs in a recent article from the Financial Times.
“With 250m people around the world using Teams, the introduction of avatars will be the first real metaverse element to seem real,” said Jared Spataro, the head of Microsoft Teams, speaking in the same FT article.
With the level of change thrust upon the world of work recently, this logic makes sense. Hochberg added: “Today you can’t not think about how people can work in the metaverse since everyone works every day and it’s changed so much in the last 18 months.”
“In addition, every study shows Gen Z’s revolt from traditional officing. Truly collaborative shared spaces are not only productive and fun but will unlock huge value.”
But this will not be an overnight process, as Adrian Rashad Driscoll, head of immersive at interactive entertainment company Collimation, explained: “Just like any other technology, there needs to be time to make it palatable to everyone (or at least most people).”
“Remember the first cell phones were huge and didn’t do much. Now that the technology is powerful enough to support wireless opportunities in VR/AR, and people don’t have to depend on an expensive and powerful computer. We can bring this to the masses.”
One of the key issues for many who’ve used AR/VR applications before is that the hardware is often expensive and cumbersome to use.
But this is where Facebook may have a solution, according to Driscoll, who explained: “First, they have made an all-in-one headset (Quest 2) that is affordable to a good amount of people. This is the first step to inclusion and adaptation of this technology. Second, they are investing a ton of money into creating content that will keep people interested in this tech.”
There’s also Microsoft’s AltspaceVR platform, Driscoll points out, where users can interact with people in a number of metaverses – you just don’t need a headset to use the spaces. Unity is another offering from the Microsoft stable, a real-time 3D development platform for building metaverse applications
“These applications will create new and exciting ways to collaborate. This not only adds enjoyment to the workplace, it fights potential burnout. Although there are a number of solid collaborative apps out there, these are the ones I would look out for,” Driscoll added.
Thanks to the (already) rapid pace of technical development, there are plenty of new applications hitting the mainstream from startups and big tech companies alike, helping workers enter the metaverse.
Sam Englebardt, CEO of Galaxy Interactive (a VC fund dedicated to the interactive entertainment ecosystem), said: “The future of work and the future of play are converging and we have so many portfolio companies that I believe are going to be relevant to both.”
It’s quite a fitting statement, as the metaverse blurs the lines between the real and virtual worlds, so will the metaverse blur the lines between work and play. In our new hybrid world of work, the metaverse seems like a natural next step.
But is it a step we want to take?
“The metaverse is a dystopian nightmare,” writes John Hanke, founder and CEO at software house Niantic, in a company blog post. “Let’s build a better reality.”
It’s a strong stance but the sentiment is important – the world of work (in fact, the world in general) must tread carefully as the metaverse starts to develop and grow in both scale and complexity.
Just as hybrid working initiatives must be carefully managed to promote a mentally healthy workplace, the metaverse will need a similar (if not, greater) amount of management to make it a safe space for everyone. It’s the ultimate hybrid environment, where the real and virtual worlds converge. Yet, there seems to be a lack of advice in managing this latest phenomenon that’s set to hit the world of work.
Of course, it’s early days and in the brave, new world of the metaverse and there’s time to make sure we steer things in the right direction. Because the potential of the metaverse is limitless and with the right strategies in place today, we can all make the world a meta place for tomorrow’s workers.