Will Metaverse become your new workplace?

Could your commute to work in the future be about going to pick up your VR headset?

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Looking back 50 years from now, it’s likely that the 2D internet we all use today will seem laughably archaic.

Not only will the internet no longer likely exist behind a screen, but it is likely that we will interact with it differently.

We will manipulate objects using augmented reality (AR), explore virtual reality (VR) worlds, and merge the real and the digital in ways we cannot currently imagine.

And what will this mean for the world of work? We are already moving away from the nine-to-five commute and turning our backs on the traditional desktop setting. That’s thanks to two years of pandemic shutdowns and a newfound love or tolerance for virtual meetings.

So the next logical step would be to work in the Metaverse, the planned virtual universe where cartoonish 3D representations of everyone will walk around, talk and interact with each other?

In the various virtual worlds that could one day merge to form a metaverse, you can walk around in avatar form

Metaverse has become an overhyped term, so it’s important to note that it doesn’t exist yet. And even those invested in the concept disagree about exactly what it will be.

Will rival virtual worlds connect in a way that simply does not currently occur between competing technologies? Will we spend more time there than in the real world? Will we need entirely new rules to govern these new spaces?

None of these questions have answers yet, but that hasn’t stopped a flurry of interest and hype as companies see a new way to make money.

We’ve seen companies open up in burgeoning metaverse worlds, from Meta’s Horizon Worlds to games like Roblox and Fortnite and newly created lands like Sandbox and Decentraland.

Meanwhile, Nike now sells virtual sneakers, HSBC has land in Sandbox, and Coca-Cola, Louis Vuitton and Sotheby’s have a presence in Decentraland.

The term metaverse was coined almost 30 years ago by the writer Neal Stephenson. In his book Snow Crash, the hero finds a better life in a virtual reality world.

Perhaps the boldest move to turn this fiction into real technology came in October 2021. That’s when Facebook announced it was changing its name to Meta and began investing billions of dollars to transform itself into a metaverse-first company — a vision , which is largely led by its founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Mark Zuckerberg has been criticized for his focus on the metaverse

Still, this colossal investment has raised eyebrows among shareholders, some of whom recently expressed concern that the company was spending too much money on VR.

And a report by The Verge website last October, which claimed to have seen internal Meta memos, suggested that the Horizon Worlds platform had numerous bugs and was not being used well by employees.

Herman Narula, CEO of Improbable, a company that makes software to build metaverse countries, and author of a book called Virtual Society, is not convinced by Zuckerberg’s vision.

Herman Narula wants the Metaverse to be radically different from the real world

“Why do we want an office in the metaverse that looks like our real office?” ” he says. “The whole point of creative spaces in new realities is to expand our experiences, not just replicate what we’ve already had in the real world.

“But I think there will be many jobs in the metaverse – for example, we will need moderators. »

The moderator or police aspect of the metaverse is controversial, not only because it is technically difficult to monitor potential billions of avatars having live chats in a virtual world, but because of the enormous amount of data these avatars can create along the way.

A Stanford University study found that spending just 20 minutes in virtual reality yielded more than two million unique recordings of body movements, a rich new stream of data for businesses.

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Alex Rice, co-founder of online security firm HackerOne, believes that a lot of thought needs to go into the design of the metaverse before a company can even consider letting its employees get lost in it.

“Imagine something as innocuous as a conversation at an office water cooler,” he says. “Imagine this taking place in a fully monitored metaverse environment – it’s sure to have life-changing consequences.

“People can be fired outright for saying something they believe is in a private, casual conversation with a colleague who is now under mass corporate surveillance.”

Tom Ffiske, editor of the tech newsletter Immersive Wire, thinks it’s way too early to start thinking about working in the metaverse.

Tom Ffiske, here playing a game of VR football, says that working in the metaverse is still a long way off for most of us

“Discussing the metaverse is still mired in difficulty, and the definition is still tenuous and debatable,” he says. “While the concept itself is under discussion and poorly defined, it is unclear whether we will work in the metaverse in the future.”

While no one can quite figure out what the Metaverse is, there are bullish market predictions for what it might be worth. McKinsey suggests a market value of $5tn (£4.2tn) by 2030, while fellow management consultancy Gartner predicts that a quarter of the world’s population will spend at least an hour a day in the metaverse by 2026.

Matthew Ball, chief analyst at research firm Canalys, disagrees – he predicts that most commercial projects underway in the metaverse will be shut down by 2025.

He believes that companies need to consider whether a presence in the metaverse is really necessary, or just using technology for technology’s sake.

“Not every company needs a VR headset to greet colleagues’ avatars from a distance or view virtual models,” says Ball. “Not all companies need VR headsets for meetings either. As powerful and compelling as virtual reality is, Zoom and Teams calls offer nearly frictionless alternatives that can be less cumbersome. »

Tiffany Rolfe is creative director at RGA, a digital branding firm. She and some members of her team have worked in the metaverse before.

Tiffany Rolfe is among the minority of people who have ever spent time working in a virtual world

The company created a virtual soccer stadium in Fortnite for phone giant Verizon during the pandemic, and they also worked with Meta to build a music world within Horizon Worlds.

“People who would typically be on a computer designing things would have to put on headsets and work with builders around the world,” says Rolfe.

And with new ways of working come new considerations, such as how long employees must wear helmets. “My team probably had two hour periods where they got it. ” she says.

The fact that people are already working in virtual reality worlds suggests that the Metaverse may well have a future as a workplace, but the jobs that will exist there will likely be very different from the ones we do in the real world.

And anyone hoping to trade their daily commute for a helmet will likely have to wait many years before that becomes a (virtual) reality.

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