How the Metaverse Will Usher in a New Era of Collaboration
The remote and hybrid workplace is becoming a general rule rather than the exception in more than a few companies. The success of these work models depends largely on employees' ability to collaborate at a distance, which has fueled the rapid growth of the enterprise collaboration market. Now that market is starting to diversify and change.
A recent report by ABI Research indicated that the nascent immersive collaboration market could eclipse $22 billion by 2030, representing nearly 35% of the total collaboration market (software/services, dedicated video collaboration and hardware). The metaverse is expected to contribute to the sector's growth.
As this metaverse develops, said Michael Inouye, principal analyst at ABI Research, it will bring new ways of engaging with content, services and individuals. That, in turn, will make enterprise collaboration a likely area of focus. This evolving set of technologies, alongside changing consumer and employee tastes, are potentially opening a new era in enterprise collaboration that is more immersive, authentic and, potentially, more effective.
The Metaverse and the Hybrid Workplace
Brian Jackson, research director in the CIO practice of Info-Tech Research Group, said the metaverse concept as envisioned by companies like Meta and Microsoft is a response to the hybrid work model. The main challenge of remote work, he said, is to facilitate meaningful human interactions between colleagues in the way they used to happen in the office. Creating a virtual, immersive and persistent environment — a metaverse — is an attempt to replicate that experience. However, if the metaverse is going to be an enterprise collaboration environment, it has many barriers to overcome.
“Asking workers who are already feeling fatigued from Zoom calls to don headsets that strap a screen to their face will probably not be the ticket to renewed workplace enthusiasm,” Jackson said. “Even for those who are willing, they’ll have to learn to interact properly before they start having productive meetings in the metaverse."
Thinking of the metaverse as a convergence of four technologies — mixed reality, AI, real-time communications and immersive digital environments — opens up opportunities for collaboration in specific niches, including:
- Digital-twin interactions: Companies in industries that build or operate complex machinery or environments are already benefitting from building digital twins that enable them to better understand and plan for the real world by testing in a virtual simulation.
- Hands-free remote assist: Workers who have their hands busy are increasingly using mixed reality headsets to aid them in their tasks.
- Social and entertainment experiences: Live events have already made their way into the metaverse, like Ariana Grande’s concert in Fortnite.
All three of these niches represent an opportunity to enhance collaboration in the metaverse.
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Metaverse and the Customer Experience
Emotions and experience increasingly dominate economic relationships, and consumers are hungry for engaging experiences. This not only feeds the concept of the metaverse, it also provides new opportunities for business. According to Haifa El Ashkar, executive director of corporate strategy at CSG, innovative and creative flexibility is crucial to meeting changing customer demands with engaging digital experiences. And this will be particularly true for businesses looking to establish themselves — and thrive — in the metaverse.
Just as it has in the real world, customer experience will remain the primary value driver in the metaverse. The metaverse opportunity can therefore be observed from two lenses:
- The companies setting up, interacting, collaborating and transacting in the metaverse.
- The companies building it or building for it, referred to as the metaverse enablers.
Metaverse enablers include providers of infrastructure (such as connectivity and telecom providers), interface (hardware like VR headsets), cloud-based platforms (centralized and decentralized gateways, digital twin technology, crypto and non-fungible tokens) and experience platforms (including discovery applications, centralized gateways, as well as play-to-earn and play-to-collect applications).
For these businesses, collaborating with communications service providers could prove the most beneficial relationship of all; a perfect coming together of connectivity, technology and expertise to drive ecosystems in both the physical and virtual worlds.
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The Metaverse Will Continue to Evolve as an Enterprise Tool
The growth of collaboration via the metaverse will likely follow that of video conferencing, said Nicolas Avila, chief technology officer for Globant North America, starting with consumers using the platform for communicating with friends and family before spreading to enterprises and, eventually, becoming a business staple. The reason for that evolution, he said, is that consumers are more likely to choose to use the metaverse to interact and collaborate when it’s easy and natural, not when it’s imposed on them.
At this point in the metaverse's development, some of the vital technologies that can enable collaboration and communication are in place, but their ease of use needs to improve considerably before they gain broad adoption. For example, VR and 3D technology hold a lot of promise when it comes to collaboration, but their uses are still underdeveloped. Companies can get things done easier through other technologies.
"Those technologies are becoming more sophisticated. If that progress keeps happening at an accelerated pace, the metaverse is going to become more and more useful for collaboration and will eventually become the preference for many teams," Avila said.
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The Next Era of Collaboration Is Near
Existing digital communication tools such as Slack, Gmail, Zoom, FaceTime and Teams have reduced the need for phone calls, commuting and business travel. Employees can now easily relay information and share files with efficiency. The web 2.0 era created an online space where collaboration and interaction is possible and communication is personalized. This, in turn, created faster and more efficient workspaces in almost every industry.
The next era is near. Rebecca Binny, director of marketing and public relations at Pasadena, Calif.-based RayCo Media, said the next, immersive form of interaction and collaboration will offer seamless interactions between people all over the physical world. Coming together in the metaverse, people can present themselves however they feel confident doing so, which is empowering and emboldening.
These new communications models can also be more authentic and more trust-building than face-to-face conversations which are often stifled by social anxieties and issues with authority. Binny also said the metaverse can be a place where people learn lessons from social media about the negative effects of anonymous speech and, as a result, seek ways to cultivate a culture of respect and inclusion.
The business models that are most likely to succeed in the metaverse are those that already offer a strong collaboration culture, such as classes, meetings and conferences. But with the right focus and intent, and the right tools and technologies, the possibilities for enterprise collaboration are much bigger.
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