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Will the Metaverse Be the New Workplace Wedge?


Business person wearing VR headset
Image: Aleksandr Davydov - Alamy Stock Vector
Over the last several years, workplace leaders have been bombarded with claims that the metaverse is comingis already here, or is the future of their business. But given all the challenges facing the workplace today, from the ongoing Great Resignation to the turbulence over what constitutes hybrid work, where exactly should the metaverse fall on workplace leaders' ever-expanding to-do list? More importantly, can the metaverse truly revolutionize the workplace as we know it?
Employers Are Excited, Employees Not So Much
Two recent surveys paint a somewhat mixed picture of where we stand and how the metaverse might come to be.
In a survey of 5,000 U.S. consumers and 1,000 business leaders, professional services firm PwC found that 82% of "executives expect metaverse plans to be part of their business activities within three years." In terms of organizational changes to make the metaverse a reality, 32% of companies plan to hire a “metaverse leader,” and 51% already have designated roles focused on the metaverse, similar to the number of professionals who focus on cryptocurrency and NFTs, PwC noted. Among the top use cases for the metaverse: providing onboarding and training (42%), interacting with work colleagues (36%), and creating virtual content for customers (36%).
While executive leadership seems pretty keen about the metaverse at the moment, employees are showing some signs that they aren’t as thrilled, as demonstrated in a survey of 1,500 employees and 1,500 employers conducted by Express VPN. When it comes to interest in immersive work, 77% of employers expressed interest in it, compared to 57% of employees. Additionally, 66% of employers were excited about the metaverse compared to 46% of employees. Not only were employees less thrilled about the metaverse, but they also had data concerns and feared being monitored in the metaverse. The survey found that 63% of employees were concerned about how their employers will collect data, and 61% were concerned that they would be monitored in the metaverse.
These reports show the makings of another wedge that could drive executive leadership and employees further apart, just like the hybrid-work debate is doing. Despite a strong cohort of employees wanting to continue with remote working (or at least have greater workplace flexibility), we have seen some executives come down hard on remote working over the last six months, ignoring many lessons learned from the pandemic. In the future, we might see executive leadership roll out their ambitious metaverse plans only for employees to scoff at their new shiny headsets as another barrier to doing their day-to-day job.
Though many workplaces are still trying to suss out what the metaverse exactly means for their organization and employees, a potential disconnect between employees and employers presents a serious obstacle. And if this disconnect isn't addressed carefully, it could harm the employee experience and the greater workplace culture.
Metaverse Has Bigger Obstacles to Address
Aside from the manager/employee disconnect, there may be a more practical obstacle looming ahead of the metaverse: money. The PwC report highlighted a sense of general excitement and optimism about the metaverse among executives and a willingness to invest in it, but it’s unclear how a recession might impact these plans. With a recession, budgets tighten, and my hunch is that companies will hunker down and focus on more mission-critical projects like fine-tuning their hybrid work strategies and continuing to make progress on workplace sustainability. It is hard to imagine organizations spending on VR and AR technology without clear revenue-generating potential.
Workplaces might still pilot metaverse programs and test how they can use the technologies within their organization, but it would still be some time before the metaverse is ready for prime time — i.e., being used as a means for everyday workplace communications and collaboration. This isn’t to dismiss current use cases of VR and AR for training or team-building activities. However, it's still anyone's guess whether the metaverse will fundamentally change how and where we work.
It’s far too soon to tell if the metaverse and VR/AR technology will go the way of Second Life, or will it become as ubiquitous as the work iPhone. I remain skeptical, but I’m happy to be proven wrong — as long as I don’t have to eat my humble pie in the metaverse.