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How the Metaverse Could Change the Face of Work

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Every so often a Silicon Valley buzzword emerges from the digital world that gets us scratching our heads and searching for a definition on Google.

Usually, terms like these burst into existence and then disappear without fanfare, being little more than marketing hype – remember how we were told robots would soon be brushing our teeth?

Sometimes though, they can describe an emerging piece of technology that has the potential to radically change the way we live our lives, and the way that we work.

That could be the case with the metaverse: a virtual environment, which many of the world’s leading tech scientists are currently labouring to bring into existence.

So what is the metaverse, and how does it have the potential to fundamentally disrupt the way that we work? We took a closer look.


What is the Metaverse?

It all began in October 2021 with a surprising announcement by Facebook, seemingly out of the blue – it was changing its name to Meta.

The new brand name wasn’t the only change: the company was also changing its strategic focus to developing the ‘metaverse’ – a series of virtual, shared environments where we can interact with each other.

In his Connect2021 keynote video speech, CEO of Facebook (now Meta) Mark Zuckerberg describes the metaverse as an ‘embodied internet’ where ‘you’re in the experience and not just looking at it.’ and views it as the ‘successor to the mobile internet’.

We actually already have technology existing at the moment that could be considered the metaverse – think of video games like Fortnite, Pokémon Go and SecondLife. In these games, you create a virtual character and interact with other human-created characters, in a virtual environment that interacts with the physical one around you. If you’ve got Snapchat, Instagram or TikTok, you’ve probably used at least one external filter on one of your photos or videos – another example of a metaverse interacting with a physical environment.

Regardless of that, Facebook’s announcement of a turn towards building virtual worlds has got a lot of people excited. As well as being a tool for fun, many experts think that the metaverse has the potential to be a potent work tool too, completely upending how we do our jobs.

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What makes a metaverse?

Tech commentators have attempted to narrow down just what the metaverse actually is – and what it could look like when it comes to applications outside of just games.

Gary Fowler, an AI entrepreneur and writer at Forbes, describes the metaverse as ‘a world in which our day-to-day lives transcend a single reality and includes virtual reality...Over time, it has come to encompass the VR experiences, AR initiatives and other digital simulations that have become commonplace in the modern day and age.’

You’d access such a world by using a type of digital hardware, like a headset, set of glasses or goggles.

 Fowler cites an essay by venture capitalist Matthew Ball that lays out some proposed definitions for the metaverse to try and pin down what the concept actually looks like. According to Ball, the metaverse is defined by three key characteristics:

  • It’s a world that spans both virtual and physical environments
  • It has its own economy (cryptocurrency-based)
  • It has interoperability (you can carry characters and objects from one platform to another)

Metaverse: an ambiguous term

There’s some debate about what the term actually means though, and whether there are better terms to describe it.

For Eric Ravenscraft, a tech writer at WIRED, the metaverse as a term is ‘vague and complex’ and that it’s often used as a substitute for terms we already have to describe similar concepts. ‘Mentally replace the phrase “the metaverse” in a sentence with “cyberspace.”’ he writes, ‘Ninety percent of the time, the meaning won't substantially change.’’

As a result, Ravenscraft believes that the metaverse doesn’t refer to the widespread adoption of a specific piece of technology but rather a change in the way that we interact with technology in general.


The metaverse and the world of work

So, what does all this mean in the context of work and our jobs?

Here are some potential ways that the metaverse could change the face of work as we know it.

1.   It could revolutionise the way we learn

One of the most promising areas that the metaverse looks set to enhance is the world of learning and development, specifically workplace-based learning.

Previously, L&D departments who wanted to offer employee training or professional qualifications to their workforce would choose between sending employees away to an external learning environment, like a college, for a few days a month where they’d attend in-person classes,  or they would opt for distance-learning, with the employees staying in the workplace but working through a course on a digital device, like a laptop or computer. Both involve relatively passive ways of learning – an employee sits and listens to, or reads, information.

The metaverse has the potential to radically shake up how we approach employee learning and development though thanks to the increased richness of experiences that it could convey.

 For example, imagine you’re an employee studying a module on a professional qualification about human resources and health safety legislation, and you’re looking at case studies that have established precedents in law – not the most jaw-droppingly exciting topic in the world. But imagine that you’re learning through the metaverse.

 You put on your VR goggles and you’re suddenly transported into a courtroom. You’re sitting in the jury box, and you can see the defendant and prosecutors standing before you, along with the packed gallery, full of observers. Suddenly, you see a timeline in the space in front of you with key facts about the case and the real world changes it introduces in workplaces. You can smell the musty wood-paneling around you and you can hear the bang of the gavel reverberate through the court-room. You’re in the middle of the action. You watch and listen to the case play out, hear all of the arguments and, as part of the jury, you’re asked to make your decision.

With the ability to create virtual environments that interact with our own reality, we could create an immersive form of learning that engages us on a level we’ve never really felt before. This in turn, could help us to learn much more efficiently.


 

1.   It could completely change job interviews

Every so often, a blog comes out boldly proclaiming the end of the CV, covering letter and resume. Usually, these predictions turn out to be a bit overzealous.

Whilst the metaverse might not cause the extinction of the CV as a job application document, it could fundamentally change the format of job applications and the process we go through to get a job.

For starters, if you could create a secure virtual environment, initial job interviews wouldn’t necessarily need to be conducted in person – they could be completed remotely but with the same communication advantages that come with physical meetings. This could save time and hassle for both employer and interviewee.

Using the metaverse, an employer could even enhance the quality of the interview too. With the ability to create literally any type of environment or situation, employers could create simulations of a typical work task and ask you to complete it in the interview. This could allow employers to gain a better understanding of the skills and experience of the people they are interviewing and could help job candidates gain a better awareness of the demands of the role.

As a result, metaverse job interviews would be much richer, more engaging and dare we say it, more fun, than their face-to-face interview counterparts.


2.   It could make Zoom meetings extinct

With the rise of the metaverse, pixelated Zoom meetings and the inevitable cries of ‘Sorry, you’re on mute’ could be consigned to the history books.

The virtual environments that the metaverse could create will allow us to take part in meetings that closely emulate the real thing, building that all important human connection in a way that doesn’t feel artificial or strained. 

Whilst Zoom meetings and video calls were a useful tool in dealing with the isolation that remote work presented during the pandemic, in some situations and meetings where physical interaction is essential they were more of a hindrance than a help. Think dodgy webcams, intermittent internet and distracting backgrounds.

The metaverse could help us to enhance and improve the quality of remote work meetings, without forcing us physically back into the boardroom again. It could let us create meeting environments that enable meetings to run smoothly, and create spaces that people look forward to being in.


4. It could make remote work more human

The rise of remote working has helped to redefine how we think about work and our jobs in the 21st century.

 It prompted us to think about questions like work-life balance, the nature of team management and trust between managers and employees.

One key question that remains unanswered when it comes to remote work is how can we make it seem more ‘normal’? In other words, how can we make it seem less cold and isolated, and more, well, human.

Even though the metaverse is based around the concept of artificiality, one ironic effect of its development could be that it actually helps to define what makes us human. This has important implications when it comes to things like remote work.

Ironically, the metaverse and advanced virtual reality technology could end up allowing us to interact more closely, intensely and in a more physically-inspired way than remote work currently allows. It could essentially put the human factor back into remote work.

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5. It could speed up the adoption of cryptocurrencies at work

As we mentioned above, one of the things that experts consider to define the metaverse is the fact that it has its own digital currency.

You only have to look at existing examples of the metaverse in action in games to see how this might play out on a wider, metaverse-society level. In games such as Fortnite and World of Warcraft, players earn money which they can then use to buy items – much like you do in the real world.

Many tech experts believe that if the metaverse gets to the stage where the majority of work roles in the economy are carried out using it, digital currencies could replace physical ones. In other words, we could soon find ourselves being paid in Bitcoin or Dogecoin, rather than Pounds Sterling or Dollars.

 Some commentators assume that this will probably function through another beloved buzzword of Silicon Valley tech-bros, the blockchain. Whether or not companies widely adopt cryptocurrency payments for wages and salaries though remains to be seen.


6. It could create new jobs

The effects of technology on jobs can be contradictory and hard to predict. New technology can wreck people’s livelihoods by making roles obsolete, or it can enhance them by creating new, more fulfilling roles. 

Whilst we can’t be sure for certain, it’s clear that the metaverse might have the potential to create a whole new range of jobs and roles: from tech-based software engineering roles, through to creative and admin roles too.

This article by Morson Talent outlines some of the key positons that are expected to be created by the development and maintenance of the metaverse. It cites roles such as software engineers, virtual storytellers and cyber security as being ones whose skills would be in demand.


Metaverse: it’s all in the name

Can you remember the 1990s?

Back then, the internet was in its infancy and people didn’t really know what to make of it. The concept was so new and alien then that there wasn’t even really an agreed name for it.

Instead, words and phrases that seem old-fashioned and, well, hilariously out of place now, like ‘Information Superhighway’, ‘World Wide Web’ and ‘The Net’ were widely used to describe this brave new techo-world. Jargon was king.

Naturally, those terms haven’t aged well, but they speak to the fact that nobody can really predict the future.

Names matter. The fact that the terms we used to describe the internet hadn’t really settled down until the early noughties reflects the fact that it took that long for people to begin to get comfortable with how to use it – and the fact that the technology was still really finding its feet.

Expect something similar to play out when it comes to the metaverse.

No one really knows what it will look like, but it’s widely agreed that it’s coming and that it will fundamentally affect the way we work. The exact form it takes, and how we interact with it, is still up for debate.


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