Nobody Wants a Metaverse Workplace
Whether the metaverse actually turns out to be the next big thing or ends up being nothing more than a concept that could have been remains to be seen. There are a lot of skeptics out there — but there are also a lot of believers.
And then there are the folks in the middle. Those who are keeping an eye on how things develop. And right now the forecast is cloudy, at best.
Is FOMO Driving Interest in the Metaverse?
An idea as grand as the metaverse will always garner attention. After Facebook changed its name to Meta in October 2021, Google searches for “metaverse” soared by 900%.
In 2021, plots in the metaverse — those virtual parcels of land companies can swoop up — grew by about 500%, with investors buying $500 million in properties, according to the data published by CNBC. That number is expected to be twice as high in 2022.
In the first five months of 2022, more than $120 billion had already been invested in building the metaverse's infrastructure, according to McKinsey. No one spends that kind of money not expecting to get a return, Meta included. After all, the company has poured billions into the idea and hired thousands of individuals to help build the virtual world.
But there is one huge caveat: The Wall Street Journal reported in October that while Meta had initially set a goal of reaching 500,000 monthly active users by the end of 2022, the current tally is actually less than 200,000. Users are simply not impressed.
Recently leaked memos show even Meta employees don’t even want a metaverse. And while the company made its biggest cuts to its work force this week — representing 13% of employees — early reports suggest none of those cuts were made to those most directly involved with metaverse development, in spite of a reported $3.67 billion dollars in operating losses.
So, why do investors keep pouring money into this new virtual world? And why aren’t employees embracing the new technology they helped build?
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Employee-Employer Disconnect Over the Metaverse
One of the benefits taunted by metaverse proponents is the power to drive a more connected world, including in the workplace.
“The metaverse is creating a bridge between the old way of in-person work and the new way of working together regardless of location,” said Ade Ajayi, Meta's head of global sales.
Yet, a survey of 3,000 U.S. employees and employers conducted by ExpressVPN has found that employers are more excited about the metaverse potential than their employees. According to the data collected, 66% of senior leadership teams find the new technology promising, compared to just 46% of employees. And 54% of senior leaders reported being optimistic about it, compared to just 32% of employees.
When asked why, 17% of employees said they are confused about the metaverse, and 24% said it made them anxious. Others reported similar negative emotions, such as distrust (15%), suspicion (20%) and fear (14%).
Companies seeking to move into the new virtual world should pay attention to those numbers. If the goal of the metaverse is to connect people and bring us closer together, those negative emotions cannot be ignored.
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Unlocking the Metaverse's Advantages
The metaverse offers excellent opportunities for businesses and employees alike — at least conceptually. Ajayi's claim that the metaverse can empower remote workers by boosting social interconnectivity and collaboration is accurate.
And this is critically important when we know that over two-thirds of remote workers between the ages of 18 and 34 report feeling lonely, with 71% saying that colleagues are more distant in a remote environment.
So, not only can the metaverse enable a work-from-anywhere model, Nuria Requena, talent acquisition manager at Spacelift, said, but it also can help employees feel more connected despite the physical distance in their geolocation.
What's more, the metaverse can help make the workplace more equitable by minimizing the proximity bias found in many hybrid workplaces. Nena Salobir, co-founder and chief creative officer of Sydney-based Orbits, said the metaverse indeed has huge potential for democratizing the job market. "It means that remote or distributed workforces are no longer lonely outposts. Loyalty and camaraderie can be built online too," she said.
Of course, businesses can find it cost efficient as well. The metaverse offers companies the ability to create inviting offices and unique experiences, with capabilities to scale up and down as needed.
In a nutshell, the metaverse can bring remote work to life, giving it more meaning and more interconnectivity, and building on the advantages of the work-from-anywhere model that is gaining so much momentum around the world.
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Reconciling Employer-Employee Perceptions
Today, we stand at a crossroad for the metaverse. On one side, we have the slew of employer and employee benefits that can come from proper, ethical use of the new virtual world. On the other are concerns like mistrust, misuse and just plain misunderstanding of what the metaverse is and the purpose it serves.
The metaverse is not going to develop without user interest and support, no matter how much money investors pour into it. Companies that see it as a way forward should take the time to speak with employees about the idea, how it is intended to be used, how it can help and how they, as users, will benefit and be protected.
Trust will be a key component of the metaverse's growth in the corporate world. Employers must trust their employees in safeguarding critical data while in the metaverse, and employees must trust employers that their right to privacy will be respected, all with one goal in mind: empowering the digital workplace of the future.
About the Author
Kaya Ismail is a business software journalist and commentator with years of experience in the CMS industry.