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Metaverse Collaboration: Do Employees Even Want It?

Ekaterina Panteley Alamy Stock Photo_2BJBEJA.jpg

Image: Ekaterina Panteley - Alamy Stock Photo
Last week, Microsoft grabbed the headlines with its announcement that it plans to acquire gaming company Activision Blizzard, a move that some market analysts argued will boost its metaverse capabilities. While the attention was on how the move will impact both organizations and what it’ll mean for the metaverse, another question underpins the larger metaverse discussion: Do employees even want to work in the metaverse?
Recently, executives from The Walt Disney Company to Warner Music Group shared an optimistic outlook for the metaverse as a way to connect consumers back to their respected brand, as Business Insider recapped in this article. Naturally, Microsoft and Meta both painted the metaverse in a similar light and shared how they both aim to make it a reality with their technology.
However, executive optimism doesn’t necessarily translate into employee enthusiasm — as we’ve seen time and time again with the return-to-office debate. Research on employee sentiment towards the metaverse is somewhat limited at this time, but Lenovo recently released survey results that found 44% out of 7,500 employees surveyed “are willing to work in the metaverse” and believe it can lead to increased productivity. Similarly, 43% of surveyed employees don't think their employer has the knowledge or expertise to make the metaverse happen.
Employees willing to work in the metaverse isn't the same as employees wanting to work in the metaverse. I wonder how many employees would willingly choose the metaverse and its associated technologies (VR, AR, etc.) if given the option to design their workplace of the future. Currently, many employees feel disconnected from their CEO's ambition to bring them back into the office, so is this just another employee-manager debate waiting to happen?
Show Me the Money: The Metaverse Requires Major IT Investments
And if the metaverse is to be the workplace norm, it would not only need employee buy-in but a major IT investment. Additionally, at this time, many employees feel that their technology needs aren’t being met by their employer. The Lenovo survey found that 59% of employees do not think or are unsure that their employer is investing enough in IT to help maximize productivity.
For those in IT who managed all the twists and turns of the pandemic, this sentiment might resonate. Many IT departments saw a boost in spending to facilitate remote work, which increased spending in areas like cloud-based meeting solutions and team collaboration apps. But ask any IT professional about their current budget, and they'll say they have a long laundry list of projects to get done, but they lack the time, money, or skilled personnel to finish them.
Unless the IT resource crunch is addressed, the problem will most likely carry over to the metaverse. Deploying the metaverse — and ensuring that everyone has an equal and robust experience — would take a significant amount of investment. Not only will IT teams have to deploy VR and AR technologies (which they may or may not have experience in), but they will also have to support these devices indefinitely and develop a whole new side to their IT strategy. Then, consider all the associated IT challenges like troubleshooting devices to devising plans to boost user adoption of VR headsets. To that latter point, a Morgan Stanley analyst said in the previous Business Insider article that it’d be a challenge to get people interested in using the technology.
Does the Metaverse Open Pandora’s Box for HR?
HR professionals would have their own set of challenges to address in the metaverse — some of which first surfaced on Second Life nearly fifteen years ago, like ensuring the workplace is safe from malicious spammers and tracking employee engagement in a virtual setting. Similar to the IT department needing to assimilate the new technology within their strategies, HR professionals would have to create and incorporate policy and programs to make the metaverse work.
Also, this isn’t the only thing HR needs to consider. When it comes to VR technology, HR professionals will have to answer: How will this technology help or hinder employees with different needs? VR advocates would point to how the technology can help those with learning disabilities or autism. Conversely, others will argue how the technology lacks features to make it accessible to all. For instance, a blind employee might not be able to fill in the cues from the audio information that VR provides, as Scientific American shared in this article. This isn’t even factoring in the ethical/HR issue of asking people to do something that might make them sick (i.e., VR motion sickness).
In my last WorkSpace Connect article on the four-day workweek, I noted that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for a workweek model. Similarly, I think the potential for metaverse collaboration will vary among industries, positions, and ultimately, employees themselves. Finding out which jobs and who might benefit from the metaverse will take time, and workplace leaders will have their work cut out to metaverse-enable their working style.
For more discussions on the IT aspects of the metaverse, please consider reading these articles from our sister site No Jitter:
Also, consider reading this WorkSpace Connect article from my colleague Dana Casielles on why we might be waiting for holograms in the workplace.