There’s no one in the workplace today who isn’t at least a little bit secretly excited about the possibilities promised by the metaverse in the future of work - in particular when it comes to its application to the knowledge and technology industries.
Early reports and projections seem to suggest that democratizing the access to VR and AR will have strong effects on our general productivity, can certainly increase engagement, and help with employee branding. But beyond the hype, what will so fundamentally change that we can’t currently accomplish by jumping on a conference call?
In some cases, the answer will be nothing. If a VC would work just as well (if not better) then we should definitely stay with the thing that works. After all, the last thing the metaverse should be is a place with rigid rules and exact hours of presence.
So let’s take a look at some of the aspects I see as immediately possible and revolutionary to work as we know it, that will be brought about in the metaverse.
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Two ways the metaverse could make work more human
Let’s remember that the main advantage of the metaverse is the capacity for full immersion. This may be sketchy today, but it will become more and more all-encompassing, and this ability will make a difference in what humans settle on usage wise. Is this type of extreme immersion as desirable for other activities than gaming though? Meeting with friends? Going to classrooms? Traveling? Work?
All the above of course but in different ways.
There are two specific activities that we can hope will be revolutionized by the potential for immersion and our ability to develop it – learning and collaboration.
VR and AR will undoubtedly revolutionize learning - anyone can see the utility of visual context when we are intellectually involved. Indeed, it’s started already. Documentaries like David Attenborough’s on Oculus are a lot more than entertainment and make learning qualitatively different in ways that prestigious doctorates can’t achieve. Just imagine what this will feel like when it involves all our senses and it feels as if we’re underneath the ocean ourselves.
When it comes to collaboration though, is it such a big difference for office workers whether they attempt it with a WhatsApp call and Miro board or do it in the metaverse? Sure, there are whiteboards and aesthetically pleasing landscapes outside the digital windows of the conference room in the metaverse. And many have been raving about the experience in Horizon Workrooms. But how much better is it than other online alternatives and is it enough?
Humanity in the metaverse
Can we make these tools take on a layer of humanity? Will they enable people to learn how to increase their EQ in VR? Will they create a real sense of presence even when people aren’t in the same room?
Take facial expressions, for example. We’re still a way off from making avatars super-realistic and able to replicate our actual facial expressions or body gestures (though we are getting closer). And these non-verbal cues are an essential part of the human communication experience. But there must be other ways we can use the borderless nature of the metaverse to make it happen.
After all, the problem of delivering and expressing emotions isn’t just a problem in the metaverse. You can’t see someone’s face on a phone call. Even on a video call, it’s not always easy to pick up on verbal cues. So, if we’re to accept the move away from the physical realm and into the virtual we’ll arguably need to see exact replicas of our gestures or expressions in our avatar.
The real opportunity? The departure from the need for physicality as a guiding principle. The understanding that a practical, useful virtual space has the power to connect people wherever they are and whatever they’re doing. Even people who believe that being present in a physical space is an essential part of the human experience. Done right, the metaverse could reassure hesitant people that it’s okay not to be in a real room together and that they still can do their very best work.
Another big one? The opportunity to rethink and reassess the need for hierarchy. With work moving to a completely different environment is it not time that we also shake the old structures that are limiting us from being able to imagine new work futures such as command and control? If we are meeting again as avatars do we still need to uphold the same reverences, idioms, mannerisms and even fears and dreads we had before when having to defer to authority? In the metaverse teams could well be flat (and infinitely more useful).
But while many things may change if the metaverse becomes the office of the future, some things will remain intact.
Reducing the Human Debt in the metaverse
The need to reduce our HumanDebt™, for example. Those programs, intentions, initiatives and new changes that organizations have implemented to better the lives of employees that have either not succeeded or not completed – and so have made the lives of employees worse.
Most significantly though - the need to have healthy team dynamics with Psychological Safety at the very core is also one that is here to stay. If anything, in the metaverse we will need even more vulnerability, honesty and complete trust in one another as our new way of work will call for greater and deeper dialogue.
The most exciting opportunity I can think of when I think of the metaverse is how, with enough care and intelligent design, it would make for the perfect space for distributed teams to do their human work.
The team activities or actions, the workshops, the learning, the sharing, the laughing and the deep chats, all that tightens a team and strengthens them will all have a better home. All people will have to do is put a headset on as they will for most of their other meetings in the metaverse and find themselves in the middle of a team action and a space that feels much more conducive to collaboration than a video call.
This human work could progress from talking to doing. More likely, it will include a combination of the two and will bring a practical element (solving puzzles, collectively building something or engaging in a defined task to tighten the team dynamic) alongside the theory. In doing so, it will make the behavioral work teams need to do to remain high-performing easier.
If we executed on this right and we intentionally built it, the metaverse could be the perfect space for “teaming” – that ability to create an ad-hoc team with enough of a sense of belonging that empowers people to connect and get complex work done.
New teams could come together by the side of a road accident remotely to provide specialist care directly or by offering advice. Teams of strategists could have an ad-hoc meeting and aid the decision-making process. Tech teams from different departments or different companies could usher in a new era for open source and hackathons. You name it, the possibilities for teaming in the metaverse are infinite indeed.
And even before any of the Science Fiction scenarios come to light, there are effects we can experience immediately in the metaverse. The same enhanced ability to connect will be the driving force behind even more experimentation and more group practices being possible. Pair programming, DOJOs, hackathons, retros and stand-ups could all take on a more hands-on and interactive quality.
So, I for one am very excited. I can see it. It’s here and it’s bright and it’s promising. With a bit of luck, this could be the open, honest and human future of work we need. And who knows, the metaverse might well be the very place where we finally lose most of our HumanDebt.
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