• Be truly hybrid: As the rush to remote work during the pandemic showed, many enterprises had been laggards when it came to the adoption of truly digital ways of working, with outdated policies, lack of infrastructure, and a strict demarcation between consumer and business technologies. Enterprises must avoid these mistakes in the metaverse, creating integrated working models from the start that allow employees to move seamlessly between physical, online, and 3-D virtual working styles, using the consumer technologies native to the metaverse: avatars, gaming consoles, VR headsets, hand-track controllers with haptics and motion control that map the user’s position in the real world into the virtual world (although some versions use only cameras). Yet this is only the start.

  • As Shay O’Carroll explained: “We have created well-being areas designed as forests, or aquariums. They could even be on the moon. These areas can contain on-demand content such as guided meditations and/or exercise classes.”

  • Delivery to your physical space: Clients can add features such as the ability to order take-out food or books and other merchandise within the virtual environment and have these delivered to your physical location (e.g., home).
  • Live status tracking: Just as in the physical workplace, you can walk around and get that panoramic sweep of the office floor, see where colleagues are located and who’s free, drop in for a quick chat, etc.
  • The ultimate vision, according to Andy Sands, co-founder of PixelMax, is being able to connect different virtual workplaces.

    Companies such as Meta are also pioneering haptic (touch) gloves that enable users to interact with 3-D virtual objects and experience sensations such as movement, texture, and pressure.

    Within the metaverse, you can make friends, rear virtual pets, design virtual fashion items, buy virtual real estate, attend events, create and sell digital art — and earn money to boot. But, until recently, the implications of the emerging metaverse for the world of work have received little attention.

    That is now changing. The effects of the pandemic — especially limitations on physical meetings and travel — are spurring a search by enterprises for more authentic, cohesive, and interactive remote and hybrid work experiences.

    For the less adventurous, you can choose from options like the virtual Rooftop Party or meeting in the Zen Gardens.

    Introducing Your Digital Colleague

    Our work colleagues in the metaverse will not be limited to the avatars of our real-world colleagues. Increasingly, we will be joined by an array of digital colleagues — highly realistic, AI-powered, human-like bots. These AI agents will act as advisors and assistants, doing much of the heavy lifting of work in the metaverse and, in theory, freeing up human workers for more productive, value-added tasks.

    Recent years have seen tremendous progress in conversational AI systems — algorithms that can understand text and voice conversations and converse in natural language.

    Of the remote and hybrid workers surveyed in a recent ExpressVPN report, 59% said that they felt anxiety as a result of their employer monitoring them. More than half said they’d resign from their job if their manager implemented surveillance measures.

    Not all employees oppose workplace monitoring — or virtual workplace monitoring, as the case may be. Over half of office workers surveyed by Robert Half were open to digital surveillance if it led to perks, like the ability to work preferred hours.
    As for vendors, a few argue that tracking allows employers to customize virtual experiences depending on employees’ skill levels and other characteristics.

    One of the Culver City, California-based startup’s clients is Farmers Insurance, which worked with Talespin to create a damage assessment tutorial for claims employees and a ‘soft skills’ program focused on customer service.

    There’s also Interplay, a startup providing online and VR training for a range of skilled trades including plumbing, electrical, and facilities maintenance. Courses on the platform feature video recordings of experts who lead users through procedures, supplemented by wiring diagrams, equations, example system configs, and charts. To challenge employees’ knowledge, Interplay guides them through the process and then presents a randomly generated fault in a system.

    Research shows that biased behavior and sexist comments don’t dissipate when more meetings take place virtually — in a 2020 survey, Slater and Gordon found that 27% of British women were told to “dress more sexy or provocatively” for virtual meetings. And half of the women responding to a 2018 survey said that they experienced a form of sexual harassment in VR.

    Meta and several other platform providers offer tools to prevent this from happening. But several experts say that these tools need to be more obviously denoted.

    Above: Facebook Horizon will be a collection of worlds.

    Another question unaddressed is of cost.
    While VR training can be cheaper than sending poorly-prepared workers into situations with expensive equipment, not every employer — or employee, if they’re a contractor — can afford hardware required to access virtual training platforms.

    The visual and interactive nature of metaverse-based learning is also likely to appeal particularly to autistic people, who respond better to visual as opposed to verbal cues. Virtual reality tools can also be used to combat social anxiety in work situations, for example by creating realistic but safe spaces to practice public presentations and meeting interactions.

    New Roles in the Metaverse Economy

    The internet didn’t just bring new ways of working: it brought a whole new digital economy — new enterprises, new jobs, and new roles. So too will the metaverse, as the immersive 3-D economy gathers momentum over the decade ahead.

    Mark Zuckerberg believes that Apple and his company are in a “very deep, philosophical competition” to build the metaverse, suggesting the two tech giants are ready to butt heads in selling hardware for augmented and virtual reality.

    The Meta CEO told employees earlier this month that they were competing with Apple to determine “what direction the internet should go in,” according to a recording of his comments during an internal all-hands meeting obtained by The Verge. He said that Meta would position itself as the more open, cheaper alternative to Apple, which is expected to announce its first AR headset as soon as later this year.

    “This is a competition of philosophies and ideas, where they believe that by doing everything themselves and tightly integrating that they build a better consumer experience,” Zuckerberg said of the brooding rivalry.

    The metaverse draws on a vast ensemble of different technologies, including virtual reality platforms, gaming, machine learning, blockchain, 3-D graphics, digital currencies, sensors, and (in some cases) VR-enabled headsets.

    How do you get to the metaverse? Many current workplace metaverse solutions require no more than a computer, mouse, and keyboard keys, but for the full 3-D surround experience you usually have to don a VR-enabled headset. However, rapid progress is also taking place in computer-generated holography that dispenses with the need for headsets, either by using virtual viewing windows that create holographic displays from computer images, or by deploying specially designed holographic pods to project people and images into actual space at events or meetings).

    Workers have to rely on earlier training to figure out how to fix it.

    The health care industry is showing particular interest in metaverse onboarding technologies, particularly those supporting high-risk surgical use cases. San Francisco, California-based Osso VR, which offers VR-based orthopedics, endoscopy, and interventional training programs, claims that Johns Hopkins is among its over 20 customers. Competitor FundamentalVR, which combines VR with haptic feedback technologies for surgical simulations, has investments from the Mayo Clinic.

    A newer vendor, Clostra, was recently awarded a grant to bring Metaverse technology to a different sort of market: defense.
    With its software, DeepMeet, U.S. Air Force senior leadership will be able to join a command room or remote training facility from anywhere in the world, Clostra says.

    Leave a comment