Will the metaverse have an impact on how we work? Predicting non-fiction from science-fiction.

March 17, 2022
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Dave Savage, Harvey Nash Group Technology Evangelist, assesses the potential impact on the metaverse on recruitment and work.

In February Mark Zuckerberg published a post updating Meta’s values. He stated a commitment “to build the future of distributed work that we want, where opportunity isn’t limited by geography… to help people feel present together no matter where they are.”

Opportunity lies at the heart of Facebook’s transformation into Meta, and attempts to position themselves as a company synonymous with the metaverse.

Whilst ‘where’ we work has evolved, ‘how’ we work has not. Working, especially collaborative tasks, happen in a physical 3-D environment. The technology we use to work remotely is limited to two dimensions. Productivity has survived changes enforced on distributed work by the pandemic, but the same cannot be said of collaboration.

However technology could change that, and Mark Zuckerberg is betting big on it.

He believes our frustrations surrounding the limitations of remote working won’t lead to a return to offices, but an adoption of technology that allows us to retain the freedom and flexibility we’ve grown accustomed to without compromising how we work.

Until the app boom there wasn’t a need for the iPhone. Much like Apple shaped our behaviors, Meta believe that if they provide the platform to support the future of distributed work they will become central to our needs.

An out of body experience

For years the technology sector has struggled to create an inclusive workforce and reduce bias. According to the Harvey Nash Group’s research the average proportion of women in technology teams is just under a quarter, and only 12% of digital leaders are female.

Applied is a growth business applying AI to minimize bias in the recruitment process. Khyati Sunaram, CEO, would be first to acknowledge it is impossible to remove bias. Irrelevant data will always influence your decisions, both positively and negatively.

Applied have removed CVs and altered the recruitment process to anonymize candidates and their answers, much like a digital version of a musician auditioning behind a screen.

Mark Zuckerberg introduced Meta to the world by joining friends to play cards; one of the characters around the table was a robot. In the virtual world you can choose how you present yourself.

The metaverse could enable an organization to ask candidates to interview in the same likeness, with no individual characteristics. It might allow candidates to be creative in how they present themselves, challenging the bias they’ve previously faced. You don’t have to be you.

Change at the top

Access to global talent has been expanded by distributed working. But candidates located in close proximity to their physical workspace might not be as present as they once were. Forty-five percent of candidates are looking for organizations offering ‘work from anywhere’ schemes, a new post-restriction demand.

It’s not Gen-Z leading the charge, eighty-seven percent of Millennials want greater flexibility; this shouldn’t be surprising given spiraling housing and education costs.

Access to data and hardware remain a concern; the digital divide threatens advances in inclusion. However, distributed work makes more positives possible with individuals from less-privileged backgrounds (often minority groups) having access to opportunities they may have previously been excluded from.  

Whilst Gen-Y are the generation occupying the boardroom, Millennials will soon replace them. The metaverse can solve the frustrations of working in 2-D whilst meeting their demands. The push for a return to in-office culture may pass with Gen-Y’s reduced significance.

A new dimension to data-privacy concerns

Meta’s business model is based on their ability to capture your data. Since 2019 Mark Zuckerberg has talked about Facebook developing its own mobile OS, a development accelerated by Apple’s decision to allow users to block ad-tracking on iOS.

If Meta is successful in owning the metaverse, how many personal details will we need to share to ‘go’ to work?

In addition to individual privacy concerns, can metaverse providers satisfy organizations their virtual worlds will be secure? There has been exponential growth in low-impact attacks (an 83% increase in spear-phising attacks in one year) which will increase with instability and conflict in Eastern Europe. Distributed working means the perimeter surrounding organizations has disappeared.

Any metaverse provider has to build trust. However frustrations at the current limitations of remote working will encourage the adoption of emerging technology despite the risks.

Imagination could be your USP

Real estate costs money; cash-rich organizations have always been able to attract candidates with high-spec office space. The pandemic leveled that imbalance, with professionals changing jobs, but still working from the same space at home.

The metaverse could enable organizations to build environments limited by only their imagination. You’re a travel start-up? Why not create an open-air office on the beach of a tropical island. That sounds good for your mental health!

For years I sat in the boardroom and watched trainee applicants take part in a ‘balloon debate’. Candidates would roleplay as a well-known character and demonstrate their debating skills, arguing why ‘they’ should be the only remaining passenger in a dangerously over crowded hot-air balloon.

Instead of the boardroom we could virtually enter the balloon in an experience candidates would love. The metaverse will reward leaders and organizations able to imagine worlds that get the best out of the people and build virtual spaces suited to their collective mission or purpose.  

What about ‘Zoom’ fatigue?

Researchers at Stanford University have studied brain scans and determined that video-meetings require greater cognitive power than in-person meetings, after two-years apart we’re tired. But is 2-D the problem, not remote working itself?

In-person communications make our brain happier because staring at screens is intense; you’re talking to someone with an unnatural head size, closer than your used to whilst they stare at you. You’re just one browser click away from zoning out. A lack of eye-to-eye contact makes it hard to connect with others. Non-verbal cues are lost without us occupying the same environment. Watching ourselves (we all do it) is mental exhausting.

The metaverse solves many of these barriers to communication by putting you in an immersive experience. A virtual office on the beach could be oasis that doesn’t add to ‘Zoom’ fatigue.

The development of the metaverse is happening right now

A sense of ‘place’ undoubtedly matters to people. Whilst some people feel ‘place’ is inherently physical, Mark Zuckerberg clearly believes the virtual place can be just as powerful. As he expressed, Meta is helping ‘people feel present together no matter where they are’.

Blending reality with digital experiences will take huge computational power, but that’s already being addressed. Meta has an AI supercomputer called the AI Research Super Cluster (RSC). It’s currently the fifth fastest computer in the world, but by this summer it is expected to be the fastest. Working in the metaverse might sound far-fetched, but in March Decentraland hosted its first metaverse fashion week. Platforms are being built and tested all the time.

The future of distributed work is not certain and will cause significant regulation headaches, but two points seem clear. The metaverse can facilitate fully formed distributed working without losing our new found flexibility, and it can help tackle inequality with greater complexity than we currently can.

Will you embrace the metaverse?

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