Almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no doubt that this seemingly neverending crisis has shifted how our societies work and connect with one another. It’s also rapidly accelerated the adoption of various integral technologies — particularly XR technology, blockchain, NFTs and Web 3.0 — the next phase of the internet that will bring us closer to the metaverse.
The term “metaverse” has existed for many years now, having first presented itself in Neal Stephenson’s iconic 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash. The idea of a metaverse is that it is a virtual space that appears to be completely real and three-dimensional, allowing for a more immersive and interactive experience for connected users. In a matter of months, it’s also become one of the biggest buzzwords of our current era — especially after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his plans to rebrand the company name to Meta and turn the social media giant into a leading metaverse platform.
Microsoft tycoon Bill Gates has also recently shared his belief that within two or three years, most remote meetings will take place in the metaverse. While we can’t be certain that we are headed into the metaverse on such a proverbial bullet train, we do know that in due time, much of our professional and social lives will soon find footing within the next phase of the web.
As our work lives carry on, what might office culture look like in the metaverse? Here are some of the key changes we can expect to see in the not-so-distant future.
More personalised remote connections
It seems that remote and hybrid work is here to stay — albeit, still through “flat-screen” applications such as Zoom, Slack and Google Meet. As functional and familiar as these applications have become, their “two-dimensional” experiences haven’t quite managed to replace the efficiency of meeting with people in-person (an ordeal that has led to the now popularly coined term “Zoom fatigue”).
While employees seem to have enjoyed the idea that they can work from anywhere, prolonged periods of remote meetings have also made workplace cultures feel more bland and impersonal. Without things like body language or sharing similar settings, remote work has offered less room for people to form organic, human connections. Humans are spatial learners who learn most efficiently by doing — which explains why it can be harder for us to feel like we’re really in the presence of our colleagues or friends when speaking to them over an ordinary video chat.
Leading brands, such as Meta and Microsoft, believe we can improve the art of connecting remotely in the metaverse. Cognitively, the use of VR and metaverse platforms are likely to make us feel more focused and present with our connections. And instead of speaking with coworkers over a “flat” screen, multiple parties will be able to experience more immersive, life-like meetings that will simulate the sensation that everyone is in the same place and time.
In an effort to make remote communication easier for employees, Big Tech platforms have started unveiling more immersive communication tools. Facebook (or Meta) has already explored the idea of an early metaverse platform in their early metaverse platform Horizon Worlds, where users can use their Oculus Quest headsets to access and hold meetings in VR.
Microsoft’s new Mesh Teams software also combines mixed-reality capabilities found in Microsoft Mesh — a platform that allows for people in various locations to create digital avatars of themselves, collaborate within a shared virtual space, chat with one another, complete projects inside shared documents and much more.
More enhanced collaboration software for employees
With a massive rise in remote and hybrid working, several technology firms have seen opportunities to offer more enhanced digital collaboration solutions for teams. Collaborating on projects in real-time also presented itself as one of many post-pandemic challenges, with employees often struggling with logistics or team communication while working on projects simultaneously.
3D design platform Gravity Sketch has recently launched its innovative LandingPad virtual collaboration room, making real-time collaboration between professional designers and teams much easier and more accessible through VR. Users have the ability to create personal collaboration rooms, invite team members and design at scale in 3D. There are also functions that allow for in-app voice conversations, the ability for users to edit others’ work and the ability to move around projects at scale.
NVIDIA also recently made its popular metaverse-building Omniverse software free for individual creators and artists to access in 2022. Omniverse has been a leading contender in the growing collaboration software market, with downloads from over 50,000 creators and counting. So far, Omniverse has been adopted as an industry-standard within a range of different sectors — such as the robotics, automotive, construction, media and architecture industries.
When we think about what collaborating in the metaverse may look like 10 years from now, platforms like Omniverse are leading the way. With its stunning interface and cross-disciplinary functions, NVIDIA has taken input from several developers, customers and partners to produce real-time renderings and interactive workflows that, well… work.
More diverse and inclusive teams
Working in a metaverse office, as opposed to a physical office, means there are zero limitations on who can access it. In our post-COVID era, we may remember a time when we would only seek employment in markets where we were restricted to the job market that was tethered to our home city or our physical location. Those who choose to work remotely can already wave goodbye to the days of spending two hours commuting to get to work on time, or feeling pressured to relocate for the sole purpose of seeking employment.
Companies that adapt to metaverse technology should also consider how this will impact their diversity and inclusion targets. A non-physical office or remote team will allow them to hire nationally or internationally, providing them with greater access to global talent.
According to recent research released by Owl Labs, nearly half of the UK population believes that working in the metaverse will be an asset to workplaces. 52% of respondents also claim to be confident that the metaverse will “bridge the gap between in-person and remote workers by creating a more immersive environment.”
A smart idea for workplace vendors may be to consider implementing a metaverse strategy that will well-position them to access new opportunities offered by Web3. This may include staying on top of metaverse products — or looking into more streamlined integrations between space reservation interfaces and collaboration platforms.
Either way, the emergence of the metaverse is an exciting time for workplaces — offering many possibilities for companies to improve their workflows, advance their collaborative capabilities and hire more diverse talent. These possibilities, combined with the optimistic view from survey respondents, suggest that we will soon see more immersive, embodied office environments come to life.