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What you need to know about the Metaverse and the future of work

The evolution of work has many people wondering about a buzzword that is making its way into the tech-o-sphere: how will the metaverse play into the future of work?

With the help of some technical experts in the field, we answer your questions about the Metaverse, its applications in the workplace, and some of the issues that surround the virtual workplace.

Before we dive in, I’d like to remind readers that we’re here to answer your toughest questions about technology, how it can affect your life, and the workplace implications. So don’t be shy. Send us your questions, comments or concerns at [email protected]

That said, we are entering the metaverse.

Q: What is the Metaverse and what companies are involved?

Broadly speaking, the metaverse is a network of digital worlds that could include any combination of technologies ranging from virtual reality to augmented reality to blockchain. But the definition varies widely.

Research firm Forrester defines the metaverse as a three-dimensional layer of the Internet that is interoperable. This means that no company owns the metaverse.

“We don’t think the metaverse is here yet,” Forrester analyst JP Gownder said. “There’s going to be a long time here — like a decade or more — to create the full metaverse.”

But companies playing in the space say they are already actively engaged in the Metaverse or at least Metaverse-related technologies.

Last year, Microsoft rolled out Mesh for its workplace communication service, Teams. The feature combines mixed reality capabilities and allows workers to collaborate via 3D avatars with access to Microsoft productivity tools. Similarly, Facebook unveiled its Horizon Workrooms app for Oculus Quest 2 headsets. The app gives users digital avatars and lets them host meetings and collaborate in a virtual world.

A number of smaller start-ups are also working on metaverse technologies. New York-based, for example, has created a 3D collaboration platform that allows people to create avatars and meet in existing virtual rooms or build their own spaces. Plantation, Fla.-based Magic Leap is working on augmented reality headsets and apps for businesses. And Strivr, based in Menlo Park, Calif., helps companies like Bank of America and Walmart train their employees in virtual reality.

Q: How do workers use it?

Technologies related to the metaverse are used in several ways: to train workers in technical skills, to help them develop better communication skills, and for collaboration purposes. But tech experts say that ultimately the technology is still immature and somewhat limited.

Accenture employees huddled together and integrated into their virtual office during the pandemic. And workers talking to advisers at PricewaterhouseCoopers Hong Kong could soon interact in a virtual world called Sandbox, where PwC has purchased virtual real estate.

Meanwhile, Walmart employees have used virtual reality to practice tasks such as using its kiosks that allow online order pick-up. They’re also learning how to deal with active shootouts, which company CEO Doug McMillan previously said helped with the 2019 El Paso store shooting. Verizon associates used virtual reality to prepare for complicated customer service calls. And as part of a Boeing training program, astronauts have recently started using virtual reality for preparations for spaceflight.

Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab and co-founder of virtual reality company Strivr, said the fact that companies like Walmart and Verizon have adopted its technology is proof of the demand. of business applications. Training is more memorable and faster in virtual reality, he said.

“When [VR] sticks in the workplace, it will be because of the training,” he said.

But beyond the uses of VR training, the number of companies adopting metaverse-related technologies is relatively small, experts say.

“If the metaverse goes [provide] an immersive meeting and office sounds like it makes sense on paper,” said Jason Schloetzer, associate professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. “But the practicality behind it is a heavyweight.”

Q: What are the main issues facing the Metaverse?

There are a number of issues hindering mass adoption: the bulkiness and price of VR headsets, data privacy and security, health issues such as motion sickness for some workers, and accessibility.

Products from emerging start-ups may not have ranking officer failsafe, said Gownder. Even the most secure software has the potential to increase worker monitoring, he added.

“Head-mounted displays have eye-tracking capabilities,” he said. “They might track your attention and what you watch.”

Bailenson said that beyond the employer, the tech company may also have access to worker data. For example, some companies that make headsets claim they have the right to access what the cameras see in a user’s real environment.

When all of this data combines with data that tech companies may already have about users, the result can be particularly concerning, Schloetzer said.

“What do we think of the merger of [nonwork related] social media activity with our behavior at work? ” he said. “Someone [may] to be able to build a very comprehensive midnight-to-midnight profile of everything we do.

Although technology has become lighter, faster and cheaper, it could still represent a significant expense for companies and have a physical impact on some workers. In some cases, workers could experience headaches and nausea — a phenomenon that often occurs more in women, said Bailenson, who has implemented a 30-minute limit on technology for her virtual reality classes. . Equally concerning, some apps require people to be able to wear headphones and use their hands to control movement, which rules out many people with disabilities, he said.

“We need to think about this more as an industry,” he said. “It’s not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do.”

Q: What does the metaverse mean for the future of work?

For some, the metaverse represents new job opportunities as start-ups and large corporations seek a slice of this emerging virtual world. For others, it may mean new training opportunities or more immersive meetings. Workplaces that use services from some of the big tech companies may automatically have access to new features sooner than they expect — and they may not need VR to access them.

But working entirely in the metaverse is unlikely when it comes to the near-term future, at least based on current technologies and challenges, experts say.