The fact that Facebook changed its corporate name to Meta should send a signal about what at least one tech company sees for the future of digital interactions. The metaverse is an increasingly talked-about topic that refers to an alternate reality online—blurring the lines between the physical and digital environment.
Rajat Kohli leads the end-to-end aspects of strategic business consulting and advisory engagements for Zinnov, a global management consulting firm with eight offices worldwide. “Early anecdotes show that the metaverse will influence the HR function immensely and will have strong implications across the employee life cycle, including recruitment and onboarding, employee engagement, and learning and development,” Kohli said. But the implications will be broader than for just the HR function itself. It will have a massive impact on the type of knowledge, skills and abilities companies will require across all types of positions.
“The day Meta announced that it was hiring around 10,000 people for its platform in Europe, companies across the globe started strengthening their future workforces,” Kohli said. “More than 40 percent of service providers started hiring top talent to build their metaverse vision within key technology areas including AI, Internet of things, digital twin, blockchain and 3D modeling, among others.”
Kohli added that “tech giants such as Meta, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and Google are and continue to be heavily focused on investing in senior leaders who have vast experience in gaming; mixed, augmented or virtual reality; and multi-cloud environments—and thanks to the metaverse, HR leaders are now expected to be equipped to hire talent irrespective of their location or preference.”
The pandemic has certainly fueled the rising interest in making more meaningful virtual connections, said Chris Madsen, who leads the business development function at Engage. Engage is “a virtual communications platform that simulates the way we interact in the physical world, but without physical limitations, allowing for multi-user events, collaboration, training, education and much more,” according to Madsen. In other words, it’s a tech firm that facilitates metaverse experiences.
By now, we’re all familiar with “Zoom fatigue.” Metaverse interactions will be far different, and far better, Madsen said, allowing people to interact in 3D environments where they feel immersed in the action.
What Is the Metaverse?
While you’ve likely heard the word bandied about, chances are you’re not entirely sure what the metaverse is—let alone its implications for HR. Ask a dozen people—even if they’re all tech experts—what the metaverse is and you’ll likely get a dozen different answers.
Justin Parry, co-founder and COO of Immerse, a virtual reality (VR) technology and solutions company, offers a practical way to think about the metaverse and its implications for HR. It is, he says, “a richer and more immersive version of everything the Web and mobile currently have to offer.”
The metaverse, in short, is an immersive alternate reality. It’s an alternate reality that, Madsen points out, “is a persistent space that exists whether there’s anybody in there or not.” With the metaverse, he says, “the Web will become a 3D experience”—an experience that can be engaged with on any screen, from phones and tablets to laptops and desktop computers.
“The metaverse allows organizations to put a permanent footprint out there on the Web, where people can come in and, again, experience that company’s culture, their services, their products, in a new way—an experiential, spatial way,” Madsen said.
For some, that may be frightening. For others, exhilarating. For many companies, it will present new ways to engage with customers, clients and employees.
Experiences in the Metaverse
“When you’re in a headset, your brain truly is convinced that you’re in an environment spatially—there’s a physicality to it,” Madsen said. “If I were to meet you in VR, I would literally be reaching out my physical hand and shaking your hand and we would be interacting with that environment around us in a spatial way.” Platforms like Engage, he said, allow for those interactions to be taking place with up to 70 people “interacting at the same time, in the same space, with full 3D audio.”
Unlike in a Zoom environment, he said, where people need to go into breakout rooms to interact with each other separate from the larger group, in the metaverse, they can have private conversations while still in the larger environment. “I can say, ‘Let’s walk over 10 feet and we’ll have a private conversation,’ because spatial audio allows you to do that.”
What that does, Madsen said, is allow people to feel present with other people regardless of their geographic locations—an important aspect of remote work that has become commonplace during the pandemic and is likely to continue into the future.
Some Important Things for HR to Think About
Michelle Hague is the HR manager at Solar Panels Network USA in Denver. In that role, “it’s my job to stay ahead of the latest trends in the workplace—and the metaverse is no exception,” she said. “I know that the metaverse is going to have a big impact on HR.”
For employees, the metaverse might affect how they will work in a virtual world, the type of training and support they’ll need and how it will be delivered, and how they can be more productive and engaged with their work.
For HR leaders, the metaverse presents opportunities and risks. “On the one hand, the metaverse offers a new way for employees to connect with each other and with customers,” Hague said. “But on the other hand, there are potential risks associated with working in virtual reality, including everything from data security to eye strain.”
Solar Panels Network USA is already taking steps to prepare for the potential impact of the metaverse, Hague said. These include:
- Working with their IT department to make sure that data security systems can protect employee information in a virtual world.
- Looking at how the company can use the metaverse to enhance training and development programs.
- Talking to employees to get their input on what they would like to see from a virtual workplace.
The company recognizes that “as we start to explore the possibilities of the metaverse, we may need to bring on board some new talent with expertise in virtual reality and mixed reality technology,” Hague said. More importantly, though, “we’ll need employees who are comfortable working in a virtual environment and who are excited about the potential of the metaverse.”
In addition, Parry advised that “HR teams will also need to provide systems that draw a clear divide between a citizen’s personal and professional identity.” Employers “will need to be completely transparent about the data that’s being captured, how it will be used and the impact it may have on an employee’s professional development,” he said.
Employees Poised to Engage
There’s already some indication that employees will be favorably disposed toward the metaverse. After all, many already are experimenting with immersive technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality through gaming and other applications. And they’ve had ample experience staying connected via Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms.
A study of 1,500 employees and 1,500 employers in the U.S. conducted by ExpressVPN indicates that “nearly 3 in 5 employees and 4 in 5 employers are interested in an immersive workforce.” Their research also indicates that “66 percent of employers are excited about the metaverse, and 46 percent of employees share the same excitement.”
Some major companies are already investing in and exploring the potential that the metaverse offers. Madsen points to some examples, including:
- Accenture purchasing 60,000 Oculus headsets for VR training.
- Fidelity Investments putting on an event in the metaverse.
- KPMG building an innovation hub in virtual reality, where they’re providing their partners with an opportunity to experience the metaverse firsthand.
To take full advantage of the opportunities that the metaverse may present, Parry suggested that HR teams begin to identify key use cases that might make sense for their organizations and their employees—”whether it’s providing capabilities that didn’t already exist or improving existing learning practices,” he said.