December 17, 2021
Although the term ‘metaverse’ was coined in 1992 by science fiction novelist Neal Stephenson, it has only just entered the mainstream lexicon after Facebook changed its name to Meta to reflect its strategic focus on making this sci fi vision a reality. Given that there is no singular definition of what a metaverse is, and there will be many competing metaverses transforming our experience of social media, electronic commerce and how we collaborate and transact online, it is important that leaders start to understand the profound ways in which this new technological paradigm is set to radically impact on the future of work.
Metaverses are immersive 3D digital worlds based on virtual reality gaming experiences. Multiplayer online games such as Fortnite already have many of the elements that make up a metaverse, including the ability to buy and sell digital inventory using tokens and crypto currencies. Many of the world’s largest fashion brands, for example, are already actively experimenting with digital-only clothing collections which are “worn” by influencers. Metaverses are more expansive than closed online games – they allow people to enter using their real-life identities and use these platforms to work as well as shop, play and hang out.
For organisations, metaverses promise to create more realistic, and therefore more productive, immersive meetings made possible with 3D virtual reality headsets. Microsoft is already rolling out Mesh for Microsoft Teams to make online collaborations more fun and effective through helping people connect in less impersonal ways, for example, through sharing body language, having water cooler conversations and engaging more in team meetings.
A better understanding
In order to understand the way in which metaverses will change the future of work, leaders must first understand the digital platforms which provide the foundations on which metaverses are built. Facebook is designing its metaverse as a centralised and closed ‘walled garden’, meaning that it aims to own and profit from all user data generated from it. Alternative forms of metaverse are already being developed which will be open, decentralised, and which have the purpose of protecting the rights and privacy of those individuals which will inhabit and use the technology.
Organisations need to prepare for new job roles that do not currently exist
The distinction between ‘open’ and ‘closed’ is absolutely critical in terms of understanding how the internet is evolving, and thereby changing the very nature of work. The fact that many metaverses will be open and decentralised means that every organisation will have to understand how their current business models, even if they are digital, will be disrupted. Reality Gaming Group’s Digital Asset Trading (DAT) platform is able to tokenise any item such as in-game digital inventory and real world items such as music, art and clothing. The result is that organisations will need to think about how they deliver value to customers in a world where ownership of intellectual property is distributed across members of metaverse communities.
The convergence of metaverses, digital platforms, crypto currencies, data analytics and decentralised and open applications will see a new incarnation of the internet that will mean that organisations need to prepare for new job roles that do not currently exist.
A new architecture of work
Before this can happen, leaders will first need to help everyone in their organisation develop ‘platform vision’. This is a deep understanding of the logic and architectures of digital platforms, and how digital systems integrate into coherent and scalable enterprise-wide architecture. This means that organisations will need to hire metaverse ecosystem architects, with specialist knowledge in deep technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, computer vision, data analytics, quantum computing and high-speed networks, to lead their digital transformation programmes.
These architects will need to work in transdisciplinary teams consisting of metaverse marketing, branding, business development and innovation specialists who will be responsible for the redesign of their organisation’s product and service portfolios and virtual reality customer experiences as well as identifying new markets and business models.
People are wary of full integrating their social media presence with their working lives in such a potentially intrusive manner
The nature of metaverses will mean that there will be an exponential explosion in the amount and quality of personal data collected and analysed. This will mean that organisations will require metaverse analysts who use artificial intelligence and deep analytical tools to augment strategic-level decision-making.
It is important to note that Facebook’s own research has already shown that people are wary of full integrating their social media presence with their working lives in such a potentially intrusive manner. So organisations will also need to understand the role that health and safety will play in immersive digital worlds, meaning that they will need demonstrate that data is secure and unhackable by the next generation of quantum computers. They will also need to integrate expertise in metaverses in their governance structure in order that people do not suffer from excessive monitoring and dehumanising controlling management practices.
Metaverse technology promises to produce imaginative and creative new ways for people to collaborate and work online. However, leaders will need to ensure that this vision of the future of work does not lead to burnout from employees spending excessive amounts of time immersed in virtual worlds. Hybrid working will no longer be about the home-workplace split but about achieving equilibrium between the virtual and the physical world. HR will need to develop new hybrid working policies to ensure healthy metaverse working practices.
Metaverses promise to be powerful creative canvases to enable organisations to imagine incredible new offerings for customers and exciting new ways of working and collaborating for employees. Those organisations which will flourish in the future will be those which are able to engage a new generation of talented transdisciplinary metaverse professionals by focusing on the human dimension as much as the technological, building purposeful innovation cultures based on a more humanised and conscious approach to work.