Where the Metaverse and Digital Workplace Meet
Earlier this month, the computer manufacturer Lenovo took at look at attitudes toward the metaverse and how workers were responding to it. The goal was to determine if there is a workplace argument for investing in the technology and, if so, the use it would have.
Leaving aside questions as to what the metaverse is — or even if it actually exists, as suggested in a recent Washington Post article — the Lenovo survey of 7,500 working adults across the U.S., U.K., Brazil, Singapore, China and Japan in November 2021 shows nearly half (44 percent) of employees are prepared to work in the metaverse, compared to 20 percent who say they are unwilling to work with the technology, 21 percent who are neutral and 15 percent who are not sure.
While 44 percent think the metaverse will improve their work productivity, three in five (59 percent) question whether their employers are currently investing enough in IT to help them maximize their productivity.
These findings do not make for a resonating "yes" to the metaverse for work, but there appear to be enough workers prepared to use it to create considerable disruption. In fact, it would seem that, just as many enterprises are getting to grips with the digital workplace, the metaverse is poised to disrupt it. Is that the case?
Centralized Vs. Decentralized Metaverse
Some argue that the metaverse is merely existing technology rebranded, with most of it having more to do with gaming than being an extension of real life. In a business context, a metaverse is augmented reality or virtual reality. It's an interface for new ways of interacting and educating.
Kristof De Spiegeleer, founder of Belgium-based blockchain firm ThreeFold Foundation, pointed to some challenges to the metaverse's success such as issues with bandwidth and computing capacity. He argued that for the metaverse to come alive there needs to be a decentralized internet structure where the data needed to be effective is in close proximity.
In his view, this means lower latencies, more bandwidth and different ways for people to safely be in the metaverse — all of which starts by not letting the technology fall into the hands of centralized parties. Rather, he says, it needs to have collaborative ownership.
In this broader work context, the metaverse can now go in two ways: a marketing-based metaverse, where the technology becomes an extension of the existing internet and all applications are carried forward — which he doesn't support — or a decentralized metaverse that's created by the users themselves, affording everyone safety, privacy and sovereignty.
“The metaverse will not just be a place for online classes. It will be your mobile phone, your web, your augmented reality and more,” he said. “These are just different ways to interact with the new metaverse as an extension of our current life giving us superpowers we wouldn’t otherwise have.”
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The Metaverse and the Future of Work
There is a lot of talk about the many ways the metaverse can change our lives in the future. Carlos Cano, creative lead at U.K.-based blockchain research company D-CORE, believes that COVID changed the landscape for the metaverse's use in the workplace.
The technology may provide companies and their employees with greater capabilities, but the biggest transition has already happened: Most office work is now remote and while the quality of the tools will continue to improve, the change will not be as revolutionary as it would have been prior to the pandemic.
“As we stand today," he said, "I cannot see it becoming more than a gradual increase in the capabilities of the software we use daily."
That comes with one caveat: Companies born out of the metaverse will have endless possibilities. “Of course, virtual offices need no cleaners, but what about space designers? Experience creators? Interactive performers?” he said. “I think that this is a way more interesting line of thinking, as there is no limit to what can happen in the metaverse."
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So long, he said, as it's not a platform owned by Facebook.
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Where Will the Metaverse Apply to Work?
As pointed out in the Washington Post article referenced earlier, there's a lot of skepticism surrounding the metaverse. One issue, said Wayne Hu, partner at San Francisco-based SignalFire, is the avatar-centric workplace narrative of the metaverse as proposed by Meta and Microsoft is unlikely to materialize. Avatars are a form of engaging in make-believe, which is common with games and children's applications or within communities such as cosplay or sports fandom, but is not very conducive to the workplace.
There are, of course, other purposes for the metaverse. For instance, millions of people are being lifted out of poverty by playing Axie Infinity in the Philippines, Venezuela and other developing countries, Hu said, earning them between five and 10-times the minimum wage in their home countries.
"The metaverse could also transform the earning power and prestige from traditionally low or mid-paid skillsets, such as designers, who can now create scarcity around their work and reach a much wider audience," he said. "It could potentially create new types of skillsets and roles, from virtual community managers to game trainers, and other jobs driven by virtual skills."
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What's Certain Is the Metaverse Will Change
Labster CEO Michael Jensen said the metaverse will change the way we learn, work and socialize, but maybe not in the way we conceive of it now.
For instance, there may be no need to wear VR headsets for long periods of time. Instead, he envisions a hybrid VR/AR and browser-based metaverse that provides freedom and accessibility to the user.
In education, he said there's a possibility for any student or teacher in the metaverse to have unrestricted access to the most cutting-edge school campuses in a virtual and highly realistic 3D world. The metaverse could provide a way to interact, collaborate, access unlimited resources and teaching tools, instantly travel anywhere and obtain trusted digital accreditations verified by blockchain technology.
In his view, that's the exciting future of the metaverse.