HR Technology

Sep 07, 2022 9 min read

Metaverse & Future Workplace

Author is a chemical engineer and an MBA by qualification. Having worked in varied functions such as Technical services, Institutional Lube Sales and HR, the author has exposure to Auto, Marine, Steel Plants and other industries. His interest areas include Market Research and Strategy

What is Metaverse?

Imagine a virtual world resembling the real world, where you can live, play, shop, socialize and work with your team and clients from the physical comfort of your couch. Welcome to metaverse, the next big evolution of internet.

Metaverse as a notion that is first described in novel Snow Crash published in 1992. “Meta” is the Greek word for beyond and “Verse” is taken from Universe, a virtual world beyond the universe. Several companies over the years have build on metaverse, and the applications were primarily limited to cyber gaming, popularizing online communities like Second life, Roblox etc.

History is the proof that innovations to make a better world, is primarily driven by adversities and necessities. The pandemic necessitated a forced shift from physical workplace to a remote one and now the hybrid workplace. The joy of remote working supplanted by usual ennui, going through endless virtual engagements, and thus taken a toll on our psychological health. Ingenious minds envision metaverse can create an attractive and better-connected workplace of future. It became a household name, when Mark Zuckerberg in October 2021, changed the corporate name of Facebook as “Meta” and announced his plans to invest USD 10 billion next year to build his vision of metaverse. Since then, the tech giants of world like Google, Apple, Microsoft and many more have outlined their vision of metaverse.

Metaverse and Internet:

As defined Techopedia, internet is a globally connected network system facilitating worldwide communication and access to data resources through a vast collection of private, public, business, academic and government networks. It is governed by agencies like the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) that establish universal protocols. Alike the Web, a service communicated over the internet, metaverse poised to enhance scope and utility of internet by many folds. It is not in competition with internet but builds on it in different forms.

In metaverse, users pass through a virtual world that has replicated aspects of the physical world using cutting edge technologies like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), Artificial Intelligence, social media and digital currency etc. Metaverse is an online and immersive environment where people can interact in real-time through avatars (digital clone/image).

As per an article in TechTarget (www.techtarget.com), “The internet is something that people "browse." But, to a degree, people can "live" in the metaverse”.

Metaverse applications, leading the innovation in workplace:

Snow Crash was more of a dystopian view of the future and didn't put the metaverse in a positive light. But on a brighter side, the metaverse applications are fast catching up beyond the gaming. The platform is now becoming massive revenue source for musicians and artists with easy reach to larger audience. The Manchester City club has teamed up with Sony, to virtually re-create a 55000 - seat virtual stadium in metaverse, that can offer totally immersive experience to the users.

But as per a recent article in HR Digest, perhaps the most far fetching applications of metaverse will be workplace. While still in nascent in many respects, the metaverse could potentially remove isolation and disconnectedness that can result from remote and hybrid work. Some of the metaverse application that can lead the HR innovation are illustrated below:

Meta is working on Horizon Workrooms using metaverse application, creating VR space for teams to connect, collaborate and develop ideas together, where you can meet your teammates across the table even though, you are physically miles apart ( for further details, visit the site: https://www.oculus.com/workrooms/ ).

Microsoft has launched metaverse application platform “Mesh” that enables presence and shared experiences from anywhere – on any device – through mixed reality applications. (for further details, visit the site: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/mesh ).

Microsoft has launched under mesh platform, Holoportation, a 3D capture technology that help users to reconstruct and transmit high quality 3D models of 

people in real time.

The metaverse is coming to Microsoft Teams. The new service lets users in different physical locations join and share holographic experiences during virtual meetings.

Metaverse will have critical importance in future when it comes to recruitment and onboarding. Microsoft has already been working with professional services firm Accenture to create Mesh-enabled immersive spaces. Accenture hires more than 100,000 people every year and uses Mesh to help onboard new employees. Leading global companies like Siemens and Hyundai are already leveraging the metaverse for hiring and people management. Candidates can have the experience of being interviewed and onboarded in a 3- dimensional virtual world. This allows them to have an immersive experience understanding the culture and values of the company.

Metaverse has immense potential in learning and development sphere. Micro learning modules with immersive experience using metaverse application is the new way of experiential learning and companies must adopt for impactful learning interventions. Shell’s use of virtual and immersive learning modules successfully replaced expensive field trips & geology primers and supports in imparting leadership and behavioral training. The intervention results in saving to the tune of USD 200m after development costs.

Metaverse, the HR Challenges:

In November 2021, Lenovo conducted a survey of 7,500 working adults in the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Singapore, China, and Japan, finding that nearly half (44%) of employees are willing to work in the metaverse which presents a new opportunity for businesses. 

Bill Gates, the tech mogul and co-founder of Microsoft in his blog predicted that all virtual meetings with in next 3 years will migrate to metaverse. If this prediction comes true and rightly so, then HR leaders should be driving the transformation. With access to technology and know-how to implement the change, the HR leaders shall be designing the future work keeping people in mind.

The HR Challenges can be distinctly categorized into the followings with metaverse in place:

  • people management and

  • legal issues.

Let’s first understand the people issues. A recent article in Forbes, stresses on areas where HR can focus on for making the most of the metaverse in workplace.

  • Hierarchy Of Tech-Savviness Versus Technophobia: A metaverse will likely feel native to younger workers while requiring many others to learn to do things in a completely new way.

  • Bandwidth Requirements That May Emphasize Inequity: A metaverse requires more internet bandwidth, with less developed areas generally offering fewer affordable options.

  • Workplace Safety, Well-Being, and Inclusivity: Even though people will mostly be using avatars in the metaverse, they will be interacting in what will still constitute a work setting. Companies must remain serious about diversity, inclusion and belonging when it comes to their employees. To that end, HR professionals will need to decide how exactly to oversee this virtual space to avoid problematic behavior such as harassment, abuse, or bullying. A good guide would be to determine what constitutes such behavior in the virtual world, integrate the definitions into your workplace policies and educate employees on inappropriate behavior in the metaverse.

  • Creating A Productive, Collaborative Workplace: HR will need to set up the metaverse in their organizations in a way that drives business performance. The virtual design of the metaverse allows us to go beyond the traditional, often uninspiring office environment and create places conducive to collaboration, creativity, decision-making, entertainment, or all these combined. They will need to develop new hybrid working policies to ensure healthy metaverse working practices and teach leaders how to lead in this new environment.

  • Envisioning learning interventions: With metaverse in place, HR must reorient the learning process to include micro learning modules with immersive experience. HR in collaboration with experienced leaders has to design the content for impact learning. The employees are to be trained to effectively use the high-tech gadgets for learning in VR environment.

  • Talent acquisition and on boarding: Metaverse will play a vital role in the way companies will recruit and onboard their employees from diversified demography for creating equitable and diverse workforce, that is productive. To attract talent, HR leaders must create conducive environment for candidates to have an immersive experience of culture and values of the company.

Soon after Meta’s (formerly Facebook) virtual reality platform Horizon Worlds was made available to the public, a 43-year-old British woman, Nina Jane Patel, claimed she was groped in the virtual world by a group of male avatars. She penned down her ordeal in a Medium post: “Within 60 seconds of joining — I was verbally and sexually harassed — 3–4 male avatars, with male voices, essentially, but virtually gang-raped my avatar and took photos…"

Do we have a legal remedy available?

There is no centralized authority for a decentralized platform like Metaverse. There are currently no laws that govern the metaverse or any virtual world. But the laws that applies to internet like the defamation law, copy right law, contract law, tort 

law etc. also will be applicable to the metaverse. It is an emerging technology, aiming to close the gap between reality and technology. For competitive advantage companies will be using metaverse and this brings plethora of data privacy, Intellectual Property, and cybersecurity related risks. The biggest challenge for HR professionals will be ensuring compliance to various laws in the metaverse.

Section 43 of Information Technology Act, 2000 covers the aspects of data privacy and makes the corporation responsible to implement and maintain reasonable security practices and procedure. Any breach resulting in wrongful loss to any person, corporation shall be liable to pay damage by way of compensation to the person affected. The HR leaders should be aligning the practices and procedure keeping in mind the Act.

Another challenge HR may face is the use of copyrighted Avatars that may bring us into the ambit of copyright violation laws.

Concluding thoughts:

Metaverse is an open, created universe without legal boundaries, so makes it challenging to create a uniform legal structure to regulate the virtual workplace where employees positioned in remote places, geographically disconnected work together. However, it is beyond denial that metaverse will encroach the present workplace to different extent in different domains.

The metaverse is an exciting new technology that businesses and HR should be aware of. While the opportunities for metaverse in HR are still in their infancy, companies that take the time to consider the practical applications and the opportunity to use this technology to improve interaction within their organization will be ahead of the game when it comes to reaping the benefits.

 

     

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