Following Meta’s announcement it needed to recruit 10,000 new employees to develop its metaverse, we’re seeing a continued and growing focus on virtual reality (VR)’s potential to revolutionize our world.
The metaverse has the potential to touch every part of our lives, including work. Recent research by Gartner predicts that by 2026, 25% of people will spend at least an hour in the metaverse a day, work being a key reason for this.
There is already a great deal of debate concerning the potential positive and negative impacts of the metaverse – something which every new piece of culture-shifting technology typically faces.
The ability to engage and collaborate with people wherever they are, closing the gap between physical and virtual interactions stands to support new working patterns (hybrid and remote work) empowering employees further to work in a way that suits them.
For HR, this means the ability to provide a digital employee experience in a way that has yet to be made possible.
Human interactions are here to stay
When businesses take the first step to start assessing if the metaverse is for them, they are likely to question whether this new technology is an enabler of human interactions or a barrier to successful connection.
Similarly, employees may also begin to ask their employers to offer assurances that implementing this technology won’t come at the cost of office space or face-to-face benefits.
As is the case with any technology, correct implementation is critical. If used as part of an overarching employee experience strategy, this technology is hopefully not something that replaces, but instead facilitates meaningful interactions.
In a work environment, entering the metaverse to have a chat with a line manager, for example, is much closer to a face-to-face exchange than an email, or a Teams call. In this context, the metaverse can augment human interactions, not replace them.
Plus, it could enable conversations that might be more uncomfortable in an office setting. For example, if an employee wants to reach out with a sensitive question, they could use a basic avatar in the metaverse and get advice anonymously.
This would remove the stigma around reporting harassment and enable HR to take the necessary steps to protect all workers from negative experiences at work.
Practical ways businesses can use the metaverse
For HR leaders and businesses wanting to get an initial taste of the real-world applications of the metaverse, let’s consider the following:
● Virtual recruitment fairs: Candidates can engage with potential employers and get a real picture of the kind of company they would be working for.
● Interviews and assessments: A great example to demonstrate this is mass hiring for a retail assistant role. Candidates can be in-store (virtually) and interact with simulated customers where the candidate’s competencies can be assessed.
● Meetings and one-to-ones: Individual and group conversations will become much more immersive, allowing employees to focus on the task at hand.
● Virtual collaboration spaces: Unlike a proper office, real estate is less of a premium. So large collaboration spaces can be created where users can write or demonstrate ideas in front of their peers.
● Social events: The possibilities here are endless, think of virtual concerts, entertainment, and other corporate events.
● Learning: Interactive virtual learning environments, on-demand. You can transport employees to a space that helps them learn through interaction and run through real-life scenarios, to prepare employees.
The metaverse and hybrid work
A priority use-case for the metaverse could be to enhance fledgling hybrid working systems. Currently, many employees are at home, and workplaces have tried to replicate the office experience virtually, but most have been unable to.
Part of the reason for this is the proliferation of tech tools needed to make hybrid work feasible. For example, although video conferencing is now part of our normal work life, employees suffering from ‘Zoom fatigue’ is a common pain point.
A metaverse-like experience could look to solve these hybrid work headaches by knitting existing tools and experiences together. Blurring the lines between real-world work and virtual could help employees to better collaborate and work together in virtual spaces.
Additionally, through the metaverse, employees could more easily take jobs in different cities or countries, with their employer onboarding them virtually while also maintaining a real-world-like experience.
Hybrid working has already introduced increased flexibility into the lives of workers and the metaverse has the potential to take this to the next level.
The progress needed
For businesses that are looking to take the plunge, perhaps a final consideration is where this technology currently stands in the market.
Do we already have innovators in the HR metaverse sphere striking a clear path for businesses? Currently, the answer is no. We have yet to see a frontrunner when it comes to the application of the metaverse in the workplace, and it is often these disruptors that bring the technology into the mainstream.
Additionally, the cost associated with the burgeoning metaverse might not be something businesses are willing to take on, especially while the technology is still in development.
Currently, each employee would need a VR headset to access the metaverse, costing companies a minimum of £300 per employee to implement. This investment might be something that businesses choose to push back and review in the future when the metaverse’s role at work is more defined.
Also, the point should be made that there is currently no definitive or single version of the metaverse – with both Meta (formerly Facebook) and Microsoft both pursuing their own versions.
In time, all of these factors will become clearer, allowing a broader set of businesses to consider if it’s right for them and the steps needed for employees to make use of the technology.
It won’t just be a mindset change, logistically, companies may need to help employees to upgrade broadband packages to be able to support the technology from home, as well as offer training.
Plus the continued proliferation of HR systems – almost all (84%) of organizations have between six and 15 HR systems in place – means businesses need to be cautious when adding another new technology to their employees’ plates.
The metaverse is of course an exciting new technology that businesses and their HR departments need to take notice of. While the opportunities it can offer are still young, companies that take the time to look at the practical applications and the chance to use this technology to boost interaction within their organization will be ahead of the crowd when it comes to reaping the benefits.
And in today’s world, where meeting employee demands is more important than ever, businesses need to do all they can to ensure they’re on the front foot when it comes to what might possibly be the next big thing.
CTO and Co-Founder, Applaud
Duncan co-founded Applaud and has served as our Chief Technology Officer and as a member of our board of directors since February 2010. Prior to founding Applaud, Duncan spent 10 years advising organizations on enterprise HR technology deployment, and before that worked in Oracle's own HR Development team building out their core HCM products.