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Analysis

From Video Calls to Virtual Reality: Metawork

By Cinthya Alaniz Salazar | Wed, 04/13/2022 - 13:45

The digital transformation that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic has since demonstrated the viability of hybrid and remote work, but before business leaders and contributors can get comfortable they will have to tackle virtual work. Despite the realization of a functional metaverse being years away, many already envision themselves working in the virtual world at least partly, according to a study by Microsoft 2022 Work Trend Index. 

Over the past two years, the traditional nine-to-five, presential work model that had reigned largely uncontested since the 1800s has become obsolete. The remote and hybrid work models that companies implemented and refined will likely remain even in the post-pandemic reality. Furthermore, after having realized their advantage, companies have continued to incorporate digital-first solutions like collaboration in the cloud or communication platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams.

This comes as a response to the incontestable rise of a global digital economy that continues to consume tasks that normally require presence and interaction. This occurs in tandem with advances in network technologies such as 5G, Web 3.0 and the metaverse; which will set off a secondary transformation process of the way people work. As the presumed successor of the internet, companies have poured in billions toward the realization of the metaverse and exploring market avenues, which points to the proximate realization of virtual work. 

The closest reference to what a virtual reality work model could look like is Meta’s Horizon Workrooms, which the company used internally for six months before launching the metaverse. The virtual conference rooms reflected the reimagination of collaborative work, in essence mimicking the sensation of presence through the hybridization of VR and reality. Based on this early model, metawork promises to engender greater cohesiveness and innovation that has been curbed by hybrid and remote work models.

“Avatars and the metaverse bring us one step closer to making people feel like they [are] together even when they are physically apart,” says Mar Gonzalez Franco, Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research. “Our early research shows that when compared to an audio-only call, people feel more engaged, more present and even more comfortable when using an avatar in a meeting.”

Some have already gauged this possibility within the labor market, reporting that they expect to do at least part of their work in a metaverse environment within the next two years. Across demographic age groups, 52 percent of employed respondents shared that they are open to using digital immersive spaces in the metaverse for meeting or team activities in the next year. Contrariwise, 16 percent of employees across the board say they never expect to do any work within the metaverse.

Born as touch-first digital natives, Gen Z was unsurprisingly the most receptive to working in the metaverse. Second to 51 percent of Gen Z respondents, 48 percent of Millennials born between 1981 and 1996 envision doing some of their work in the metaverse in the next two years. From Millennials to Gen X, born between 1965 and 1680, the disposition to work in the metaverse drops significantly to stand at 37 percent. Born between 1946 and 1964, Baby Boomers’ expectation to partake in metawork drops to 28 percent. 

These findings indicate that a considerable portion of the working population is ready to adapt to the impending digital reality that the metaverse and other emerging technologies can bring forth. Consequently, business leaders need to consider how technologies like the metaverse and artificial intelligence (AI) can augment collaboration, facilitate co-creation and creativity in a distributed work world. While this may appear nonsensical considering the metaverse remains an imperfect approximation, at best, exploring and investing in metaverse services is the most evident market opportunity, according to Nicolás Brandoni, CEO and Founder, Peek Latam. 

“Perhaps those interested in more realistic business opportunities would be better off exploring those possibilities that can provide more useful services to people right now, instead of losing themselves in an imaginary virtual world not much better than any of today’s video games,” Brandoni told MBN. 

In 2022, the Great Reshuffle will challenge companies to once again rebalance or change their work models to optimize the performance of their contributors. In Mexico, 51 percent of hybrid employees are considering a shift to remote work in the year ahead, which implies a loss of social capital found in presential work. This will be a persistent challenge for employers in the year ahead, as new technologies disrupt or foment social cohesion.

Photo by:   ThisIsEngineering
Cinthya Alaniz Salazar Cinthya Alaniz Salazar Journalist & Industry Analyst