Will we work in the Metaverse?
With many of the world's biggest brands rushing to build and stake their claim in the Metaverse, distinguishing the difference between online and offline is about to get tricky. You could be forgiven for thinking that it's just a cynical rebranding of virtual reality, but it's time to think bigger than immersive games or fitness and social apps.
Although virtual reality is already well defined, the Metaverse is considerably vague in comparison. For example, Mark Zuckerberg describes it as "an embodied internet where instead of just viewing the content-you are in it."
By contrast, Microsoft attempted to expand on its vision calling it "a persistent digital world inhabited by digital twins of people, places, and things." The only real takeaway from these definitions is that Meta will be putting social first, while Microsoft will be homing in on productivity. Elsewhere, rapper Travis Scott reached 12.3 million viewers leaving many analysts predicting that the Metaverse was destined to be the future of entertainment. But the reality is it's all of the above and more.
The future of work
Only two years ago, many avoided videoconferencing, and working from home was for the privileged few rather than the many. In this short time, we have been on a journey that has taken us beyond working from home at scale and towards hybrid working. But where do we go from here? And what does the future of work look like?
In the absence of a virtual crystal ball, our only guide is where big tech invests and focuses its attention. Meta, Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Amazon are all rumored to be exploring augmented, mixed, and virtual reality headsets. When Facebook released the Horizon Workrooms app, it made foundational steps towards working in the Metaverse.
The future of work is already here. This year, Microsoft will be rolling out Mesh for Microsoft Teams, described as its gateway to the Metaverse. The new platform creates a digital space where employees from different physical locations can join collaborative and shared holographic experiences. It is also hoped that it will work seamlessly with existing productivity tools such as Microsoft Teams so people can quickly join virtual meetings and collaborate on shared documents in real-time.
Predictably, there is a continuously growing list of new solutions that are promising to provide virtual spaces that bring teams together. For example, the Metaverse 'Gold Rush' has seen new services such as Glue rapidly become a big hit with virtual workers. Its 3D avatars reflect the attendee's gestures and movements. There are also virtual whiteboards and post-it notes available to share and express ideas during immersive meetings without distractions from the physical world.
MeetinVR attempts to simplify the challenge of bringing the physical and digital world together. PDFs and spreadsheets can be easily imported, accessed, and saved to local devices. These new services are offering solutions aimed at helping businesses overcome the challenges of hybrid and remote work.
By removing issues such as building infrastructure or scrambling around to find a whiteboard, teams now have infinite space and resources at their disposal. With unlimited virtual post-it notes, whiteboards, and the ability to 3D-model almost anything, how we collaborate and solve problems is evolving. Although we have a long way to go, the road ahead and the future of work look much clearer.
History Doesn't Repeat Itself, but It Often Rhymes.
Our diet of science fiction novels and movies warned that in the Metaverse, our privacy would be dead on arrival. If many will sign up and happily pretend to live a good life in a digital world while living in shipping containers as their real-world decays around them remain to be seen. But there is an argument that many are already doing that if you compare their Insta-life with the issues they are grappling with offline.
However, we have been here before. Bill Gates was once mocked on the Letterman show when he attempted to explain the potential of the internet in 1995. A few years later, David Bowie was also eerily accurate when describing the impact it would have on the music industry and the world.
Even the beginning of the mobile revolution and launch of the Apple app store in 2008 resulted in gimmicks such as virtual zippo lighters, spirit levels, and flashlights. Once again, we find ourselves trying to understand how today's tech trends will reshape our future. One thing that we can all agree on is that the Metaverse won't be limited to VR. The fact that AR can project digital spaces in the real world could be a real game-changer.
WITM (working in the Metaverse)
We have never been more connected than we are today. But rather than bring people together, technology also stands accused of dividing and polarizing communities worldwide. We are arguably at a crossroads where the workforce can either be de-humanized and stories of being fired by an avatar becoming commonplace or create a fairer society where a digital parallel universe is connected to our physical world. Once again, AR would be preferable as it would also increase awareness of the reality around us.
Here in 2022, the average videoconference meeting experience is not going anywhere. Of course, the expense, complexity, and concern surrounding immersive experiences mean that adoption will take time. But our digital past has taught us how quickly the internet and mobile devices transformed every aspect of our lives.
There is a long list of Fortune 500 companies that failed to adapt to the digital world. The secret to success in the future will involve focussing on both the human dimension and the technological in equal measure. Ultimately, it's not just about exploring what the future of work could look like. It's an opportunity to play a part in reshaping it for the better so we can avoid the dystopian future that sci-fi warned us about.