Despite a new wave of enthusiasm, the term ‘metaverse' has actually been around since the 1990s. The use of virtual reality even predates that, with William Gibson delving into the digital world in the early 80s, but such language has only entered into everyday vocabulary since Facebook changed its name to Meta, reflecting its new-found vision on making science fiction a reality.
British athleisure brand, Gymshark, is the latest company to test out the Metaverse in a business setting, with recent footage showing some executives getting to grips with their new avatars in a virtual meeting room.
As face-to-face business meetings are virtually (pun intended) a thing of the past, is the Metaverse truly going to change the way we do business forever?
Metaverse deja vu
The technology is the latest trend to suffer from Macro-Myopia, with commentators overestimating the short term benefits and underestimating the long term ones.
The Metaverse has got huge potential to push virtual reality further into the gaming industry, but it’s hard to see it used in a business sense beyond having fun internal meetings. Indeed, it’s hard to see how the Metaverse will impact the future of work, simply because it feels like we’ve been here before.
Many might remember Second Life from the early 2000s, an online video game that allows users to create their own avatar and host business meetings. Second Life is having its own second life, with the original creator joining the company to direct its own Metaverse vision.
The Second Life hype talked about creating 'virtual millionaires', creating and selling virtual objects with their own virtual currency. Even back then there were Second Life executives trying to sell it as a concept to corporate businesses - needless to say it didn't take off.
There are other challenges, too. Where at home we may be ok with wearing a bulky VR headset, haptic vests, and gloves for short periods of time, it’s hard to see how this would factor in with the sheer amount of virtual meetings these days.
This will also bring with it new hardware costs at a time of rising inflation and tightening IT budgets. New laptops may have to be bought, while the cost of a VR headset is still in the hundreds of pounds - and then there’s the high speed internet connections required to run the Metaverse.
There are also emotional drawbacks. In order to provide the same level of feeling and reaction we get from physical interactions, we need to be able to portray every single element of human emotion - be it a smile or raised eyebrow - something which isn’t widely available just yet.
But the primary challenge the Metaverse will have to overcome is the feeling that just because we all work virtually now, it doesn’t mean we all want it to be like that 24/7. As the dust settles on the Omicron variant, many still crave a return to physical interactions with colleagues, if only for a couple of days a week.
If business owners are thinking about jumping into the Metaverse, they need to seriously consider all of these factors. But that’s not to say there aren’t some interesting use cases for the technology right now, especially within a hybrid working model.
What does a metaverse strategy for business look like?
Of course there are plenty of challenges, but the idea is not wholly unpopular. Research released recently suggests that nearly half (47%) of the UK population want companies to adopt the Metaverse in the workplace, while nearly two thirds (65%) also believe that it will increase workplace flexibility.
If the Metaverse does eventually become a reality, it could help better accommodate the shift towards permanent remote and hybrid working. Distance bias, or the feeling of being out of sight and out of mind from employees within the office, can lead to remote employees being overlooked in favour of ones sitting on the same desk as us.
If the Metaverse can create a more immersive experience for remote and office-based workers, it could help combat this - improving the remote working experience and levelling the playing field.
This issue might also become a thing of the past for those looking to fully get on board with the technology. Many businesses have completely ditched office spaces for home working, so it’s not entirely unreasonable to think a virtual office space could be an attractive option to increase employee interactions.
By allowing everyone to interact on the same level playing field regardless of location, the Metaverse also has the potential to boost inclusion and diversity. Creativity and collaboration can also benefit from the seamless social interactions that the metaverse can facilitate.
If the ‘Great Resignation’ and record number of job vacancies continues, the Metaverse could open up opportunities for global talent acquisition. The introduction of jobs that were once only available locally could be available globally if the Metaverse can offer better engagement and more natural conversations than ones currently held over virtual conference platforms.
How can business leaders get ahead of the curb?
If the Metaverse is to become the new office space or board room, the challenges surrounding it will need to be sorted out sooner rather than later. Businesses are still unsure about the use cases for AR and VR technology, and their influence will be needed to drive Metaverse adoption.
But much like companies started to buy up internet domain names in the 1990s, brands are investing millions in new, virtual real estate, eager not to miss the hype surrounding the Metaverse.
Then there’s NFTs to conquer. No one fully understands where the blockchain-proven unique media assets might end up, but the hype train has left the station and there are plenty willing to gamble on them - including the ‘Disaster Girl’ meme, which sold for a whopping $500k.
The Metaverse won’t be quite as fast, but with subtle advancements in virtual reality technology, and with continued backing from giants such as Facebook and Microsoft, it might be that we won’t even know it’s here until we’re living in it.
Finally, Apple is also joining the party bringing out its own Apple Glasses to beam content - health, news, and weather updates - directly into our eyes, this is where augmented reality will be the real entrance into the meta verse.
The Metaverse is no longer science-fiction - it’s just around the corner.