Low employee engagement costs businesses $7 trillion each year, analysts estimate. Microsoft reports that 70% of workers want more human connection so that they can collaborate on work that is simultaneously purposeful and inspiring.
In a hybrid or even remote setting, this can be difficult. But with new advances in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), this needn’t be the case.
With cheaper headsets such as Oculus Rift and HoloLens, along with new advances in 3D computing, AI, and cloud horsepower, employees can work, learn, and play with other team members who are across the ocean almost as if they were in the same room.
The importance of expression and empathy in a hybrid setting
“By virtue of teleportation, you can find people much faster,” says Florent Crivello, founder of Teamflow, a venture-backed startup that creates virtual office spaces. Such meetings go far beyond what can be achieved with Zoom.
In Nvidia’s Omniverse, workers collaborate on designing toys, furniture, or buildings using 3D tools. Then, using interoperable online identities (customized through computer code), they can get off work early to visit a virtual bowling alley in Decentraland, creating social bonds that other research proves are important for long-lasting productivity.
Microsoft Mesh for teams, for some a forerunner to the “real” metaverse that lands in the middle of this year, gives employees the chance to show up in virtual workspaces with avatars that are high-resolution clones of themselves.
Gaming industry research has found that this deft bit of artistry actually enhances conversations, with participants more likely to express themselves honestly and empathetically and feel more comfortable with team members they’ve only just met.
Recommendations for HR business benefits
So, while everyone is talking about the metaverse, how can HR departments make the most of this opportunity?
EX as the new CX
HR should look at employee experience (EX) in much the same way as customer experience (CX). PayPal and Airbnb, for instance, are rebranding their HR roles to focus on diversity, empathy, and “delivering better employee outcomes”.
By grounding the HR unit in the value delivered to each individual at the firm — regardless of role or situation — technology like VR and the metaverse becomes a way to ensure employees are treated as well as, if not better than, customers.
Forbes’ research found that by making this mindset change, employees are more likely to stay, more likely to report high levels of discretionary effort, and more likely to be high performers. The caveat here is that firms must ensure HR tech doesn’t become surveillance tech and that data privacy is a central concern.
Upskill leadership in AR/VR
As a result of the pandemic, HR’s priorities are building soft leadership skills such as resilience and flexibility. The metaverse can help here too.
By gamifying complex business scenarios, leaders are exposed to difficult workplace situations, but in a safe and controlled manner that aids learning and development. Talespin, a VR content development platform, found that leaders using VR and AR can be trained four times faster than in a classroom, were almost three times more confident in applying new skills, and were almost four times more emotionally connected to content than classroom learners.
Do the best with what you have
Of course, jumping on the metaverse bandwagon isn’t for everyone, at least in the short term. Oculus headsets cost $400; scaling to thousands of workers without a proven business case might meet some resistance from the C-suite.
The trick is to start small. At Southwest Airlines, the HR team used AR technology to “create an inclusive, fun work environment that empowered employees to fulfill their potential”. Doing so enabled Southwest to foster meaningful remote collaboration, immersing users in realistic work scenarios that gave them the opportunity to upskill and reskill faster.
This ability to upskill and collaborate virtually actually increases business growth by up to 14%, research has found. Productivity gets a shot in the arm as dispersed international teams coalesce on a working product.
In turn, this reduces the time it takes to release a minimum viable solution, boosting the prevalence of experimentation, product thinking, and customer-centricity — all facets of a firm that moves with the times and uses technology to outpace market sentiment.
The metaverse promises to meet people where they are with experiences that are more sentient, perceptive, and honest. And studies have shown that AR/VR is set to be a $50 billion industry by 2024, with firms using the technology reporting a 20% profit increase and a 40% reduction in on-the-job training times.
This is a windfall for the HR team in any organization, a way to increase empathy, productivity, and growth and bring back the serendipity of water cooler conversations on a global scale, just when teams need it most.