Facebook has announced that it is hiring 10,000 people to build its contribution to the ‘metaverse’. Put simply, this is a digital world that mirrors and augments our own, accessed using a virtual reality (VR) headset. It’s like stepping into the internet. Once there, people can work, collaborate and create.
And it’s going to be huge. I mean absolutely colossal. Just let that number of hires sink in: 10,000. That’s the size of some major government departments. Furthermore, Facebook is one of the biggest tech firms on earth, valued at nearly $1 trillion. It’s putting its full weight behind the metaverse. The business has said it will even rebrand to signal its commitment to it.
This. Is. Big. Anyone questioning whether it will catch on is like those in the mid-90s who thought the internet was a flash in the pan. Or the Daily Mail readers who were told the internet wouldn’t last as late as 2000. The tide of history is turning and anyone who doubts the power of the metaverse in changing the way we work is going to look pretty silly in 10 to 15 years’ time.
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It’s not just that big tech firms will force it through owing to the power they wield. It’s because of the value it offers. The simplest benefit is the ability to engage and collaborate with people wherever they are. It closes the gap between the physical office and a virtual version of it in the metaverse.
Pop your headsets on and two people can be in the same room – one virtually, one literally – and have a meeting. They can take notes, write on virtual whiteboards.
Stick Post-Its on the meta-wall. It reduces the boundaries that still exist with Zoom and Teams to virtually nothing. The only thing missing is the ability to shake someone’s hand. But, of course, we don’t do that anymore. What’s more, it might help cut out Zoom fatigue.
But it doesn’t stop there. This goes way beyond a great way to collaborate. It can be used to onboard remote-working staff. Employees can interact with 3D models for training and simulations. People can work on their own on focused activities, accessing information, documents, video and anything else they might need.
There is also the capability of building digital twins of factories, construction sites, or any other physical locations. Why would you do this, you might ask? Simple.
Imagine you’re one of the workers on the Crossrail site. You’re in a tunnel and need to see where all the electricity cables are located. You could look on a physical map to try and work it out. Or you could look at the digital twin in the metaverse which would show you instantly. This is happening right now.
With this example in mind, many would argue that the metaverse is already with us. In fact, Facebook has previously launched Horizon Workrooms and is merely bringing it to the mainstream with its latest announcement. It’s not just the social media giant either. Microsoft already has SharePoint Spaces, which is being used by firms around the globe. What might have been niche, but growing technology in the past, is ready to explode.
Furthermore, the next generation of employees is going to expect it. I just need to look at my kids to know this. I’m forever fighting a losing battle to limit their time playing Minecraft, the online world that they enter to build and interact with friends virtually. I see them working together in their own playful metaverse to create houses and occasionally bash each other. During lockdowns, they’ve played and socialised through it.
Talking of the pandemic, this is also accelerating the likelihood of the metaverse going mainstream. We’re crying out for new ways to interact and its legacy will be a move toward this new virtual existence that seamlessly blends with our own world.
Still not convinced? Let’s just look at some hard facts. VR used within businesses is forecasted to grow from $829 million in 2018 to $4.26 billion in 2023, according to analysts. Meanwhile, PwC says VR and augmented reality (AR) have the potential to boost GDP globally by 2030 by up to $1.5 trillion.
But of course, this doesn’t mean the road to adoption will be without its challenges. Cost will be prohibitive for many firms in the short term. Let’s not forget that it took an age for businesses to invest in laptops over desktops – not because the desktops were better, but because they were cheaper.
Until accessing the metaverse becomes affordable, it will be limited to those uses where the return on investment is worthwhile. Luckily, headsets now cost about £300 each rather than in the region of £1,000 as they once did.
There may also be security worries. After all, this is a totally new way to structure and access information that could be highly sensitive. Last but not least will be the cultural change needed to adopt it. It took a global pandemic to encourage workers and their leaders to use collaboration tools widely.
Fostering the use of the metaverse will take time. It could be 10 to 15 years for full adoption – when those Minecraft fans get into the office. But it will happen, and to ignore this huge shift and see it as a passing fad would be a mistake on a gargantuan scale.
Will it replace real face-to-face interaction? No, it will be another piece of the flexible working puzzle. Will it spell the end of the laptop or desktop? No, it will be another tool in our technology box. But will it be a lasting feature of the workspace? Undoubtedly.
HR leaders need to start thinking about how they can make use of it, facilitate its adoption by other departments and prepare for cultural change as it becomes a growing part of the way we operate. Because the VR for work revolution starts here.
Alex Graves is CEO of Silicon Reef