Exploring the metaverse: transitioning from a digital playground to the workplace of tomorrow

27/04/2022 by Ali Sajwani

The metaverse is, without doubt, one of the most exciting trends in modern tech. It stands to literally change the way we live our lives, which is why I and so many others are keeping such a close eye on developments within this sector. 

If, like me, you follow tech trends and investment opportunities, you’ll know the question on everyone’s lips is whether this nascent virtual universe can become more than a digital playground.

Spoiler alert: the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. In fact, I believe the metaverse is fast becoming the workplace of tomorrow.

We’ve already seen a huge shift in the way we work – driven by the pandemic to a large extent – where people are far more comfortable holding virtual meetings and rapidly grasping new technology, apps, hardware and software. 

But while contemporary tech offers unprecedented flexibility for employers and employees alike, enabling teams to collaborate from anywhere on the planet, a common complaint is that today’s tools lack that personal touch.

The potential benefits of metaverse-based work environments are therefore clear to see. They boast all the advantages typically associated with remote working, while allowing users to interact in virtual spaces that are akin to occupying the same room.

Advancements in this space are also coming thick and fast. Even so, we’ve not quite reached the point of widespread adoption among professionals.

So, what creases need to be ironed out before working from virtual offices becomes commonplace?

Here are some of my thoughts…

Security and privacy

The metaverse is still very new, and a key concern is user security. Until there are solid reassurances, legislation and protections in place, it might prove difficult for a company to operate safely, and wholly, online. Then there are the issues surrounding identity and data privacy – do we know who we are really interacting with in the metaverse, and how can we develop real trust? 

As Vasu Jakkal, corporate vice president of security, compliance, and identity at Microsoft, told VentureBeat magazine: “With the metaverse, you’re going to have an explosion of devices. You’re going to have an explosion of infrastructure. You’re going to have an explosion of apps and data. And so, it’s just increased your attack surface by an order of magnitude.”

I agree with Jakkal’s assessment but the same could be said of any new technology. From the advent of the telegram to the proliferation of the internet, new platforms always increase our ‘attack surface’.

Don’t get me wrong, this is certainly a challenge that needs to be addressed, but it also represents an inevitable growing pain for any new tech.

Remaining true to ourselves online

We all know some of the biggest business deals have been made in social situations, from conferences to golf courses to restaurants. That’s because we all have a basic human need for real-world interaction.

Proponents of the metaverse – including myself – point to its potential to enhance human connections without borders or judgement. Could it therefore improve our relationships? I hope so, but I also believe there will still be a need to meet in the real world, however realistic virtual spaces may become.

On an individual level, we as users will have to learn to embrace our true identities online, rather than hide behind artificially created avatars.

Developers, meanwhile, must work to create platforms that allow us to empathise, sympathise and understand one another in virtual spaces.

Ultimately, we need to work together to ensure we are properly represented as individuals operating in the metaverse. Failing to do so would risk losing the diversity that makes society bloom.

If we succeed, however, the metaverse could well prove to be our best chance yet of presenting ourselves as we truly wish to be seen.

Tools of the trade

In my opinion, the tech that facilitates the metaverse – both hardware and software – will be the main determining factor in whether the future of work is virtual. After all, I imagine few of us would feel comfortable wearing one of today’s VR headsets for 40 hours or more every week.

Research also suggests public understanding this concept remains in its infancy, with just 16% of Americans able to correctly define the term in a recent IPSOS survey

At the same time, several early adopters are already pushing the concept of offices located in the metaverse. It’s encouraging to note that firms such as GatherTeamflow and Virbela are witnessing rapid growth, with tens of millions of dollars in investment. 

Established industry players also seem convinced by this direction of travel. Microsoft, for example, is linking its hugely popular business connectivity and communication tool Teams with its VR/AR platform Mesh, while Meta’s Horizon Workrooms was launched in late 2021 as a virtual alternative to video meetings.

Not ‘if’ but ‘when’

While there are certainly hurdles to overcome, the emergence of metaverse-enabled workplaces seems inevitable. Remember, we are talking about a sector whose core foundations comprise innovation, advanced technology and a shared desire to enable stronger global interaction.

For me, it is not a matter of whether this will happen but rather how long it will take, and my guess is that many of us will be working from virtual offices much sooner than we had anticipated.

The trick for employers, therefore, will be to embrace and invest in these advancements sooner rather than later.

Those that don’t risk getting left behind.

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