Josephine Eyre is a workplace metaverse Ph.D. researcher and Head of Content & Communication at Omnipresent.
During the pandemic, many knowledge workers were collectively flung into forced remote working situations. Working from home, for a period of time, became the norm for many. Although the “return to the office” is well underway for some, our workplaces are forever changed. Employees have become aware of the multiple benefits remote work offers, and many now consider flexibility a necessity, not a perk. Many employers have realized that the Industrial Age model of “clocking in and out,” with set hours in a predefined place, is outdated and doesn’t necessarily lead to greater productivity or better results.
When the lockdowns hit, most of us opted to lean into workplace communication tools we were already familiar with (instant messaging tools such as Slack and video conferencing tools such as Zoom) in order to feel closer to our co-workers and continue to collaborate as best we could. However, it wasn’t long before reports of “Zoom fatigue” started surfacing and the nonstop video calls began to take their toll.
Some companies are now looking to the nascent metaverse to improve employee communication. Far from being a futuristic concept or trendy buzzword, the metaverse—the next evolution of our internet—is set to revolutionize various aspects of our working world, just as social media and mobile technologies did in the previous iteration of the internet.
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While many would agree that the metaverse, as it has been theorized by Matthew Ball and others, isn’t here quite yet, the building blocks certainly are. Virtual reality technology is finally accessible for many, and 3D virtual worlds can provide creative spaces for people to collaborate and feel closer.
Here are four ways that these developments are likely to impact employee communication in our brave new world of work.
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You may have been told to turn your camera on during video calls so that co-workers can see your face and more easily “connect” with you. This makes sense on the surface level because no one likes speaking to a black screen. However, research done by Carnegie Mellon University found that turning our cameras on could disrupt vocal synchrony and lower collective intelligence. This could have massive ramifications for team creativity.
By opting to use a 3D virtual world instead, it could be possible to use interactive tools to co-create designs in real time, brainstorm concepts using 3D mind mapping, and meet with co-workers in the most inspiring spaces. The possibilities in the metaverse are limited only by your imagination. What better way to get the creative juices flowing than a standup on top of a mountain or in outer space?
Cheaper, More Regular Work Retreats
Company retreats and off-sites are often popular with distributed teams. I think this is because, although remote work has enormous benefits, nothing beats the relationships we can build through face time with co-workers away from the usual day to day.
However, flying hundreds of people into one location and putting them up in hotels is not only a costly affair but also has a significant carbon footprint. By opting for a virtual retreat, teams can meet for focused work sessions or fun team bonding in environments specifically designed to suit their needs.
While a virtual retreat wouldn’t replace the benefits of occasional physical face-to-face time, there’s much that teams can gain from this cheaper and potentially more sustainable alternative.
Despite feeling optimistic about flexible working for the most part, many remote workers in a survey from Chargifi (via HR News) reported concerns about feeling lonely and isolated. Immersive technologies like virtual reality may be able to produce the psychological state of “co-presence”—the feeling of “being there together” with others.
Unlike video calls, where there are multiple distractions in both the physical and virtual worlds, I’ve found that being physically and psychologically immersed encourages focused attention on the task at hand and helps one be fully present with those they’re sharing the space with.
The foundations of the metaverse have been built by the game industry, and we ignore this at our peril. At its core, the metaverse is a place of human connection for those with a common goal, whether this is winning a multiplayer game or—as I believe—innovating and solving business-critical problems.
I have always believed that teams that play together stay together. While the thought of traditional corporate team-building may induce cringe-worthy images of “trust falls” and the like, the metaverse can inject some much-needed fun into our working life with games that more naturally integrate with our more serious professional activities.
In summary, if you want the benefits of working remotely without the drawbacks of distributed employee communication, consider looking to metaverse technologies to help your team connect more deeply, innovate more easily and boost morale.