While the world is steadily moving towards normalcy again, after a two-year-long COVID-19 bout, the trend of ‘Remote Workplace’ is becoming the new normal in the white-collar sector.
While most of the tech biggies have hit the headlines due to them calling their employees back to the office, other businesses are adopting the hybrid culture now. About 50% of their staffers can work from anywhere, while the remaining will report to their team leaders at the office. The hybrid concept is getting boosted by video calling apps such as FaceTime, Skype, Zoom and Google Meet, as these video meeting apps are serving as the communication channels between employers and employees.
However, it is the metaverse, which is going to lead the technological revolution in the hybrid office culture. With the support of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), it is working towards creating a virtual office, where those working from home, can get the feeling of working in a real-world company headquarters.
In the recently concluded ‘Meta Connect 2022’ event, Microsoft unveiled its technological solutions to aid the futuristic concept of ‘Virtual Office’. Apart from entering into a partnership with Meta, the company also cited that 50% of the millennial workforce will be working in a virtual office in near future. Keeping this in mind, Microsoft will help Meta with its HoloLens/Mixed-Reality tools to help businesses transition into the AR/VR phase. While Microsoft’s ‘Work and Productivity Tools’ will be making their debuts in both Quest 2 VR headset and the upcoming Meta Quest Pro, the two firms will partner with each other to come up with more such breakthrough techs in the coming months.
Quest headsets will have Microsoft Mesh which will allow the professionals to join their team meetings in Horizon Workrooms (virtual conference rooms). Your Meta Avatars can even allow you to interact with your teammates and do routine tasks such as undertaking brainstorming sessions to decide upon business strategies. All other conventional Microsoft tools such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook will be integrated with the Quest devices to make the experience holistic. The customers will be enabled to stream a Cloud PC complete with personalized settings under this mechanism.
Let’s go back to a 2019 study from the leading freelancing website ‘Upwork’ which stated that by 2028, 73% of United States businesses will have remote staffers. It also said that the companies will be offering commercial spaces in their staffers’ resident cities, which can be used as a company based in that geographical territory, with tech support connecting them with the main headquarter. The report highlighted the importance of having a mixed and merged workforce, which now has emerged as a ‘Hybrid Workforce’.
Coming back to 2022, a ‘Slack’ report has said that some 78% of professionals now want flexibility in their daily work schedule. They are giving preference to the hybrid concept. While on one hand, it is taking care of employers’ and employees’ financial health by saving costs, it is also proving compatible with the social distancing rules, with COVID still evolving.
American hospitality giant MGM Resorts have recently teamed up with VR training innovator Strivr to give job seekers a chance to try out their work roles in virtual reality before accepting the offer letters. If the candidate is unhappy, he/she can decline the opportunity, thus saving the company’s training time and money.
One direct impact of metaverse in the workplace will be in the form of team meetings and client presentations. Through the ‘Avatar’ format, you can send your digital clone to attend a team meeting or give a client presentation, while having some quality family time or holiday trips. Even customer visits can be performed via metaverse, while businesses can even host their trade exhibitions virtually, attracting more first-time customers via live streaming. The companies can benefit in form of cost savings in areas such as booking fair venues, hotel bookings for guests and special business delegations and food catering.
While many professionals complained about “Zoom Fatigue” in the last two years (burnouts due to back-to-back, excessive online meetings), bosses came across the disturbing habit of employees putting themselves in mute mode during team meetings. Metaverse’s concept of virtual office addresses this issue too, as it not only mimics the conference room environment, where the team members can see each other, the business leaders too can observe his/her colleagues’ body language during a brainstorming session, all from the comforts of the home.
Let’s go through some of the examples of professionals embracing the metaverse in their fields.
Euronews reported about Jeff Weiser, founder of a United States-based translation start-up, spending 25 to 35 hours weekly in his Cincinnati home. He uses Oculus VR gear and a supporting app called “Immersed”, which syncronizes his computer and smartphone screens to his virtual world. He uses these to communicate with his colleagues’ avatars from various parts of the world.
The same report also talked about Teamflow co-founder Florent Crivello, who deals with software solutions for companies investing in metaverse. His area of expertise is in introducing desktop-based VR tools, while the Teamflow virtual offices have game-board-like appearances with meeting rooms and other basic workplace-related infrastructures. Staffers in those places are represented by icons featuring their photos/live video facial appearances. They can discuss work-related stuff with their colleagues by moving their ‘pawn’ close to the one of that designated person. Crivello’s company has more than 1000 daily customers.
Harvard Business Review wrote about India-based NextMeet, which is mainly an avatar-based immersive reality platform. With an aim of removing the workplace isolation, often faced by professionals working from home. Here employee digital avatars can enter the virtual meeting rooms and give a presentation from the dias, apart from enjoying the benefits of a virtual colleague networking lounge, all with the help of an avatar.
UK-based PixelMax is helping businesses to create immersive workplaces. Their virtual offices can be entered from a web-based system. The team members can see their work buddies’ avatars and if they bump into each other, can use the moment to indulge in a chat as well. These virtual offices even have ‘wellness centres’ in the form of forests and aquariums.
Metaverse reaches 400 million monthly active users
In 2022, the metaverse reportedly reached a record high of 400 million monthly users. Its current Monthly Active Users count (MAU Count) is giving competition to Reddit and Pinterest, The total population of the United States and the United Kingdom combined alone is close to 400 million. Metaverse’s user base is mostly from the young age bracket and keeping in mind this factor alone, we can conclude that the world of AR and VR will keep on growing in the coming years as well.
What lies ahead for the metaverse, when it comes to revolutionising office culture?
A Lenovo survey has shown that 44% of its participating professionals expressed willingness to work in office set-ups based on metaverse.
Another PwC study has stated that in less than a decade, virtual reality will be used in 23 million jobs worldwide.
A Microsoft report, which covered some 31,000 professionals from 31 countries, said that some 52% of these individuals may change to a remote working model by 2023. Around 54% of company leaders (as covered by the survey) told that by next year, they will be having redesigned meeting rooms catering to the hybrid working model. They will focus their efforts on redesigning meeting rooms to be easier to use in hybrid models.
While the virtual offices will be cost-saving for both employees and business leaders, a mimicked office setup will give professional vibes to those working away from their company headquarters.
Bloomberg Intelligence has predicted that the Metaverse market will reach around $800 billion in 2024. PricewaterHouseCoopers has even backed VR/AR sectors pumping some $1.5 trillion into the global economy by 2030.
Most importantly, the whole ecosystem will create a new digital economy. For example, California-based IMVU, an avatar-based social network with a monthly user base of over 7 million, has thousands of creators selling their virtual products for the metaverse and generating around $7 million in form of monthly revenues. The organisation also has a team of developers, known as “meshers”, who are designing 3D templates, which can be customised as virtual products. These products are ensuring steady income for the developers.
So far, metaverse has got a good start, in terms of introducing the concept of virtual offices and avatars, as the bosses can get the best out of their team members, in terms of providing a mimicked professional work environment for these hybrid employees. Even the surveys suggest a growing market for this technological breakthrough in the coming days. We will witness a completely different form of the digital economy within the next decade.