Does the future of hybrid work lie in the metaverse?
As hybrid work models become more prominent, companies could turn to the metaverse to achieve social connection, even at a distance. We live in a world full of connections. Physical connection, digital connection, emotional connection, etc. Communication is the basis of every relationship with friends, work, family, lovers, spouses, mothers, children; the list goes on. They all have different meanings, but one thing they have in common is they need communication to function properly. Many people heard the term metaverse for the first time in 2021 when Facebook announced its company rebrand to Meta, which also introduced its intention to invest and expand its products and business plans towards a virtual world, along with artificial intelligence and augmented reality initiatives. But the concept has its origins back in 1992 when it appeared in a science fiction novel called “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson. The metaverse is like a tridimensional space of the internet, a multi-sensory experience. Various companies are rushing to get into this new wave. Think art, clothes, music, businesses, etc. The Metaverse is a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection. In science fiction, it is often described as a hypothetical iteration of the Internet, a virtual world in which artificial intelligence and augmented reality interact with each other. The future of social connection is uncertain. However, it is highly encouraged for companies, organizations, and businesses to explore possible scenarios in order to adapt, reinvent and prepare themselves for the future. This can be very helpful, especially right now when more companies are embracing a hybrid model of work, and some are adopting a fully remote model. The metaverse is the next step in the evolution of social technology. It is the space where you can share immersive experiences with people, even when you can’t be together face to face. However, technology is not a substitute for real and fruitful communication, it is merely a tool that enables us to connect, engage and relate with people easily and promptly. But nothing beats being together to feel that true and real emotional connection. So, what if instead of a physical office for people that still need to collaborate face to face for certain tasks or decision making, companies create a virtual office with the help of a metaverse? The metaverse can be the perfect solution to re-imagine the physical space. The office of the future requires companies to consider the impact in the layout that will emerge when adapting to a hybrid work model. Since virtual work will look substantially different, organizations need to make sure that their “fake physical space” is in tune with the expectations and needs of employees and as comfortable as a real space. One of the most important things in this hybrid virtual world is finding how to best replicate in-person collaboration, innovation, and community-building. Cost reduction is a benefit of moving the office to the metaverse (in a sense). For example, a large financial company planning on having 60 desks per 100 employees can rethink their real-estate spending as they move to a hybrid or remote work model. But that does not mean companies will need to stop spending money. All the money will still need to be destined to artificial intelligence, metaverse initiatives, etc. However, with each day that passes, costs will also become less and less, Facebook is even creating the possibility of entering the meta verse without having to use a virtual headset. Many organizations and employees can see opportunities, benefits, and challenges from hybrid or fully remote working models, including flexibility, increased productivity, and higher overall employee satisfaction. But not every job can be equally performed in a remote setting, and remote work may not be sustainable for everyone or every company. The pandemic shifted the world of employees by increasing the need for remote collaboration quicker than expected, without people even having all the tools. They were forced to merge their real with their virtual persona. From Zoom to Slack, to Trello to Email, all the way to WhatsApp and Telegram. There is no excuse not to collaborate. However, the real challenge of the office becoming a virtual space inside a metaverse is the limitations in interactions. The challenges of virtual interaction are taking an enormous toll in communication areas for organizations because true collaboration may get lost in the process. Another of the challenges of making this transition is in information security and privacy. The company will be exposed to more cyberattacks. This “great resignation” that many companies are experiencing is looking more like a “great disconnection” as the Harvard Business Review refers to it. Thanks to the pandemic, and a shift that had long been happening, about 65% of workers say they feel less connected to their coworkers. Employee disconnection affects the culture of the workplace and is one of the main drivers of resignation, which results in companies increasing costs and losing money. One of the solutions companies can enable to fight this workplace disconnection is allowing for spaces to promote friendship and meaningful connection between coworkers. Employees who engage and relate with friends at work are more likely to engage with customers or clients, work more proactively, and have higher well-being, according to a study by HBR. Companies need to start thinking how to take care of their workforce, and how to best retain employees and attract new talent. This starts by evaluating their internal projects and aligning them with the future of technology. Isabella Miralles is a social communicator from Universidad Catolica Andres Bello (Caracas, Venezuela), as well as an advisor of strategic and corporate communications. You can find her on Twitter at @isaMiralles and on Medium at isaMiralles.