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Is the future of work in the metaverse?

Sophia Cosby

By Sophia Cosby


Ready for immersive virtual meetings and awkward conversations with colleagues at the digital water cooler? No? Well, get ready anyway. Predicted to be a near trillion-dollar industry by the end of the decade, the metaverse and its near limitless use cases might soon be transforming how - and where - you work.

Work. A favourite topic among disgruntled millennials and business-oriented media publications alike. Since the start of the pandemic, the latter has been busy documenting the dramatic shifts in the how, where and why of work, as prolonged lockdowns, uncertainty and widespread malaise have turned global industries on their head. 

From “new work” to “languishing” to “quiet quitting”, the new terms coined by the media certainly reflected the despondent attitude towards working life. But as the world slowly begins to accept hybrid and fully remote work as the future standard, we are seeing a new set of productivity tools and solutions that want to improve our collective attitude towards work by revolutionising how we meet, collaborate and socialise. 

Making the biggest waves once again is everyone’s favourite virtual playground, the metaverse. New market research has assessed that the metaverse market will be worth $824.53 billion globally by 2030. On the work front alone, it’s easy to see why as Microsoft has already launched a virtual productivity program called Mesh for Microsoft Teams; Meta is smoothing out the glitches in its Horizon Workrooms,  and there are a whole bunch of international startups that are already offering “metaverse office spaces” for businesses and individuals. 

But is the metaverse really the future of work or just an expensive marketing gimmick? Let’s find out.

Microsoft wants you to ‘Mesh’ in the metaverse

At the end of 2021, Microsoft’s “productivity experts” confirmed what the world has known for nearly two years now: remote workers are actually very efficient, but video calls can make meetings and other social activities feel impersonal. Though Zoom parties helped ease the pain of social distancing at the start of the pandemic, video fatigue soon set in, which has led to decreased motivation and feelings of disconnectedness.

Enter Mesh for Microsoft Teams, Microsoft’s metaverse-based answer to making employees feel more connected to each other and the business. Mesh is a virtual reality solution that “allows people in different physical locations to join collaborative and shared holographic experiences, combined with the productivity work tools of Microsoft Teams.” The solution combines - or meshes, if you will - the best of multiple worlds: the comfort and convenience of working from home, the social aspect of office life as well as the entertainment factor of the metaverse.

Although gaming in the metaverse is currently the best-known use case for VR technology, its inherent mission to bring others together in a virtual space does lend itself to the workplace. Businesses and organisations can use Mesh to build their own metaverse with Microsoft Teams, including meeting rooms, auditoriums and social gathering spaces. Employees can create their own avatars - which don’t have legs, for some bizarre reason - and can access their company’s metaverse through mobile devices, laptops and VR headsets. The latter also enables one of the more futuristic functions of Mesh: Holoportation™, a tool with which you can project a “lifelike, photorealistic self” into mixed reality scenarios. If the ads are to be believed, then the future really is now.

Sharing space in Meta’s Horizon Workrooms

Not one to ever be outdone, Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, also already offers a metaverse for the workplace. It’s called Horizon Workrooms and, as the many glitches confirm, is still in its beta phase. Horizon Workrooms, one part of Meta’s metaverse building platform Horizon Worlds, is described as a “VR space for teams to connect, collaborate and develop ideas, together.” Using the Quest 2 and Oculus Remote Desktop app, employees can connect with colleagues across the globe, using their (also legless) avatars to discuss face-to-face in a virtual meeting room, write and interact on a virtual whiteboard, or tackle their to-do list by themselves by sitting at a digital version of their desk. 

Like Microsoft, Meta is selling this “shared sense of space” as the key to unlocking the next level of productivity in a remote-first world. The immersive nature of the metaverse is meant to make employees feel less alienated and  add a layer of entertainment, which is something it has already accomplished in the gaming space.

Different metaverses, different approaches

Tech giants like Microsoft and Meta aren’t the only ones developing metaverse solutions for businesses. Startups like Soma, NOWHERE and Virbela offer virtual face-to-face remote “offices” based in the metaverse. Although desktop access makes these experiences less immersive (and doesn’t really solve the screen fatigue problem), both Soma and NOWHERE forgo the use of avatars and instead use live video streams of employees. NOWHERE argues that the artifice of cartoon representations actually makes employees feel more alienated from their coworkers. Still, each of these solutions offer the same promises: improve productivity, boost morale, build a remote-first culture, and be a pioneer of the future of work.

So, is virtual reality the future of work?

For all the magical experiences that these metaverse office solutions seem to offer, some questions remain. Though using Workrooms is free with a Meta account, the price of the hardware - the Meta-owned Oculus Quest 2 starts at $399 - plus the discomfort of wearing a heavy VR headset over a period of hours, may keep metaverse workplaces like Horizon Workrooms and Mesh out of reach for most companies for the foreseeable future. 

On top of price and comfort barriers, will the metaverse’s current reputation as a place for hanging out and playing games be too distracting for employees and keep them from focussing on their tasks? Will all the cool features actually foster better collaboration after the novelty wears off? After Zoom fatigue, won’t there also be VR fatigue? 

The tech is expensive, the learning curve will be slow, and there are many other successful 2D productivity solutions currently on the market. So, aside from offering their employees a one-off experience, why would companies adopt the metaverse for the long term? The struggle of hybrid work continues.

Sophia Cosby

Sophia Cosby

Content specialist bringing you finance & crypto news you can use.