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Should your staff work in the metaverse?

The metaverse has the potential to revolutionise working practices and allow us to collaborate in ways we never imagined before.

This highly immersive world is one where our 3D avatars will work and socialise together in virtual offices and leisure venues. That’s the theory at least.

Despite all the hype surrounding the metaverse, the momentum isn’t quite there yet. But that hasn’t stopped the development of new simulated environments designed to support interaction, connection and community.

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Large organisations are already buying digital office space and branding it accordingly using the help of VR architects and interior designers. Conglomerates such as PwC and Prager Metis International have snapped up real estate in The Sandbox and Decentraland platforms respectively.

The eye-watering costs of virtual workplaces are likely to be prohibitive for smaller organisations at the moment, but prices will inevitably fall as the technology develops.

However, businesses don’t only have to consider the physical cost of investing in a meta-work environment. You should also think about additional safeguards to protect the physical and mental health of your staff. This means implementing and updating policies on health and safety, GDPR and data privacy in the metaverse.

Working in this parallel universe may prove to be a contributing factor to burnout among employees and yet another blurring of the line between work and home life.

Indeed, there is growing evidence to suggest a link between digital use and mental health problems; problems that will only get worse if metaverse users spend their working day immersed in a fully digital environment.

The negative effects of social media on self-esteem and body image are well-documented, while prolonged use of video conferencing software during the pandemic led to what researchers at Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab termed Zoom fatigue.

The metaverse is likely to compound these effects as we seek to create idealised digital versions of ourselves, and employers need to consider the potential consequences of spending more time online.

Policies will be needed to ensure that employees use the metaverse sensibly and protect them from overuse, the same as when working at a desk for too long. With such frameworks in place, employees will be able to use these virtual environments in a way that is equally productive and healthy.

It will not only allow them to carry out their day-to-day tasks but also connect and build relationships with co-workers in a way that is arguably more in-person than a video call.

There are also significant concerns surrounding employees’ data and rights in the metaverse. HR, operations and legal teams must be prepared to accommodate these policy changes and continuously update them as the technology develops too.

Before rushing out to invest in VR headsets for your teams, ask yourself whether your employees actually want to work in this new augmented reality.

The metaverse won’t be an effective business investment without the enthusiasm and involvement of your staff. A 2022 Lenovo study found that 56% of the 7,500 respondents questioned expressed either aversion or apathy to working in the metaverse.

As an organisation, you need to take the time to understand the metaverse’s potential uses and applications within your own operations and consider whether it is complementary rather than disruptive to your business.

Evaluate how it works and what it could potentially achieve for you and your people. Is it an opportunity to create a brave new online world, or just another drain on resources and your team?

Before looking to dominate other domains, it’s necessary to fix any existing challenges in work culture and practices – in the real world. The priority must be understanding what your employees’ needs are in the here and now.

Dieter Wood is managing director of workplace design and build company Interaction