The metaverse isn’t just a flashy virtual-reality tool for entertainment and communication. With more people taking remote positions daily, it has many potential uses in the modern workplace and beyond.
So, how beneficial can remote working in the metaverse — or metawork — be? What are the pros and cons? Here, I explore these questions to determine if metawork is truly the adaptation it is perceived to be.
Collaborating in the metaverse
A study by Stanford University has shown limited mobility and body language make team meetings fatiguing and unproductive with standard video conferences. But, in the metaverse, remote employees can meet up and move around in customised virtual environments benefiting company teamwork and collaboration.
Employees can create 3D avatars with unique facial features and clothes. The avatars can even walk around between offices and meeting rooms. Employees thousands of miles apart can discuss ideas and work on projects together in the same online ‘room.’
Additionally, the metaverse’s built-in AI tracks the activity of individuals and teams. Managers can see each worker’s strengths and weaknesses or identify inconsistencies in the company’s workflow. Businesses can use this advanced form of people analytics to make more informed management decisions and boost productivity.
Training in the metaverse
Computer screens can only be so effective at training new workers. The metaverse’s virtual and augmented reality technologies allow companies to create 3D training simulations. These tools can provide more accurate demonstrations and practices to develop more capable employees.
Workers in various industries can experience potential real-world situations inside the metaverse to prepare them for the real thing. Doctors and nurses can practice complex procedures, retail employees can go through different customer interactions and fashion designers can test new clothes on virtual runways.
The metaverse provides AI-powered digital coaches, chatbots and other smart assistants in a remote setting. Training manuals have 3D displays and instructional guides. Every part of a standard employee training programme becomes more interactive.
Company culture in the metaverse
The modern office — whether in-person or remote — has a clear hierarchy. Top executives often have their own offices and conference rooms, while the average workers stick to their smaller cubicles and other work areas. This structure makes it difficult for companies to establish a tight-knit and inclusive culture.
The metaverse removes all barriers and glass ceilings, putting every employee on an equal virtual playing field. Companies can now create environments where workers have equal access to the whole space, regardless of their status. Instead of trying to communicate up the chain of command, entry-level workers can simply stop by the manager’s virtual office.
Employees can also change small details throughout the metaverse to meet their needs and preferences. The ability to alter an office’s size, colours, music, decorations and other design features helps workers feel more independent. It helps cultivate a fun, productive work culture.
Positive workplace culture was a massive part of yesterday’s offices’ success. People need a strong sense of fellowship to feel fulfilled and remain productive at their jobs.
A completely virtual office that improves teamwork and productivity sounds intriguing on paper, but workers haven’t been entirely receptive to the idea. Cybersecurity company ExpressVPN surveyed 1,500 remote employees and found that many are concerned about their privacy and security while using the metaverse.
Critics have pointed out severe potential privacy issues within the metaverse, namely that the built-in AI will learn far more about individual users than necessary. It’s unlikely workers want to work in an environment that watches every movement and constantly collects information.
Another obvious question remains — is all of this healthy? Is it wise to put everyone inside a simulation for eight or more hours daily? What are the long-term mental, physical and social consequences of everyone wearing headsets and constructing artificial realities?
The side effects of metaworking
Scientists have confirmed a laundry list of adverse side effects from prolonged screen time, including anxiety, depression and ‘brain drain.’ The average person’s ever-shortening attention span also comes from excessive use of TV, social media and other forms of fast virtual entertainment.
The constant use of electronics is especially harmful to teens and young adults — the people who will take over the global workforce in the coming decades. Metawork could compound the aforementioned negative effects and stunt young people’s development, making them ineffective workers and antisocial human beings for the rest of their lives.
The metaverse has great potential to change how companies collaborate, train new employees and establish supportive cultures. However, privacy and health concerns should give businesses pause. If this technology is destined to become widespread across many industries, companies must be willing to expect and prevent the potential negative consequences of metawork.
Devin Partida is Editor-in-Chief, ReHack.com
The article originally appeared in the World Economic Forum.