HR in the Metaverse – what HR processes will convert first?

What does Meta mean and why is the Metaverse virtual world significant in HR technological advancements?

The Metaverse is described and defined as a virtual or alternative reality where people are replaced by avatars and digital illustrations, enabling meetings in the same room regardless of global location.

This technological ability is reliant on using virtual reality (VR) technology via VR goggles. This extended reality (XR) transforms our reality and interaction by using technology, creating unique environments, experiences and interactions with others. Bring in a global pandemic, travel restrictions and the need to get things done quickly and XR becomes a powerful tool for bridging “physical distance” and allowing employees to work alongside each other regardless of location. The World Economic Forum predicts that approximately 58% of companies will embrace this technology over the next 2 years.

The pandemic has accelerated the likelihood of the Metaverse going mainstream. Businesses are crying out for new ways to interact, and one of the pandemic legacies in the new hybrid working world will be a move toward this new virtual existence that seamlessly blends one with the other. For context – Gartner expects that by 2026, 25% of people will spend at least one hour a day in the Metaverse for work, shopping, education, social media and/or entertainment. To understand the concepts of a Metaverse, think of it as the next version of the Internet, which started as individual bulletin boards and independent online destinations. Eventually these destinations became sites on a virtual shared space — similar to how a Metaverse will develop.

After nearly 2 years of working in the remote Zoom or Teams world, does a three dimensional world seem or feel more appealing? The virtual office provided by technology may start to sound more suitable so that people can be present with other people within digital spaces. The long term aim is for people to access the Metaverse from all different devices and places via applications on mobile devices and PC’s, or via immersive virtual an augmented reality tools.

So how do HR teams plan and prepare for technological innovation? Having the ability to come up with good ideas is only part of the requirement – focusing on resource allocation, values, culture and purpose is necessary to do it well.

Strategic HR is about planning for the future of the Workforce – workforce management scheduling and planning – or in simple terms who is going to be where at any one time and as technologists and the next generation create and design the future workplace, HR need to be on board and thinking about innovation and vision in tandem.HR need to understand what Metaverse is, how it could help and where it is going to end up. HR should be keen to influence the next generation HR technology before it’s too late – even if this is unlikely within the next 2 years.

One of the biggest “losses” as a result of remote working over the past 2 years has been the demise of unplanned gossip and workplace chat that takes place unprompted and informally – the Metaverse could reintroduce this and support people to people access in a way that employees need. Employee engagement could be vastly improved and focused in the remote and hybrid world for the future using a variety of techniques and technologies.

As we continue towards a more distributed way of working in many sectors and industries, we are still reliant on the 2 dimensional methods of video and high quality audio, but as an interaction method this doesn’t’ meet the human need. It’s not natural for humans, people/ employees to interact in this way all the time. We are used to looking at people when they talk and responding with gestures – to support this requirement an immersive experience is ultimately needed. In this way, Virtual Reality could fill the gap as it can mimic that someone sitting to your left speaks to you from the left providing multidirectional dialogue – just like being around the board room table.

Ahead of the total immersive day to day operating environment however, what aspects of HR can adapt and develop this technology first?

The recruitment phase of the employee lifecycle via the Metaverse is already being utilised in businesses such as Siemens and Hyundai, where new employee inductions, employment information sharing, online aptitude tests and AI job capacity evaluations are already being used as part of a combined approach. Imagine, for example, a new cohort of high-potential leaders putting on VR goggles and being put through complex business scenarios with key customers or a virtual board of directors or analysts. VR provides a way to expose people to situations they may encounter as they move through the corporate hierarchy but does it in a safe and controlled manner that aids learning and development.

Keeping pace with recruitment and engaging the modern generation of employees means that considering the Metaverse will help win the hearts and minds of the new generation of staff who are focused and interested in new experiences. The Metaverse can provide auditoriums, lecture halls, restaurants and social places that closely resemble those of the real world and progressive employers are encouraging new employees to communicate with their colleague avatars at a virtual training centre, playing games, doing tests, and building relationships ahead of a face to face meetings – and in some cases ahead of employment offers. New employees are able to design their own virtual avatars that reflect their personalities, tastes and image with an indirect opportunity to promote who they are.

Some brands and companies are looking to see how they can use these virtual worlds to create immersive work environments. In November last year, Meta (previously Facebook) announced that it is hiring 10,000 people to build its contribution to the ‘Metaverse’ – described as a digital world that mirrors and augments our own, accessed using a virtual reality (VR) headset. It’s like stepping into the internet. Once there, people can work, collaborate and create.

However, this goes way beyond a great way to collaborate. It can be used to onboard remote-working staff. Employees can interact with 3D models for training and simulations. People can work on their own on focused activities, accessing information, documents, video and anything else they might need. On a practical level there are other utilisations – consider the capability of building digital twins of factories, construction sites, or any other physical locations to provide instant access to information such as the location of electricity cables or crucial infrastructure. This is happening right now for projects such as Crossrail.

The road to adoption will however, throw up many challenges.

Cost will be prohibitive for many firms in the short term. Let’s not forget that it took an age for businesses to invest in laptops over desktops – not because the desktops were better, but because they were cheaper. Until accessing the Metaverse becomes affordable, it will be limited to those uses where the return on investment is worthwhile. Luckily, headsets now cost about £300 each rather than in the region of £1,000 as they once did.

There will be significant cyber security worries as this is a totally new way to structure and access information that could be highly sensitive. The nature of Metaverses will mean that there will be an exponential explosion in the amount and quality of personal data collected and analysed. In response however, alternative forms of Metaverse are already being developed which will be open, and decentralised, with the purpose of protecting the rights and privacy of those individuals which inhabit and use the technology. Consequently, this development and utilisation will mean that organisations will require Metaverse analysts who use artificial intelligence and deep analytical tools to augment strategic-level decision-making, creating a recruitment and talent pool need for a new generation of skills and capabilities that will require investment in extensive education and skills development. Organisations need to prepare for new job roles that do not currently exist.

However, leaders will need to ensure that this vision of the future of work does not lead to burnout from employees spending excessive amounts of time immersed in virtual worlds. Hybrid working will no longer be about the home-workplace split, but about achieving equilibrium between the virtual and the physical world. HR will need to develop new hybrid working policies to ensure healthy Metaverse working practices.

VR shows tremendous promise for simulation training for soft skills, such as leadership diversity equity and inclusion (DEI) and interpersonal skills. PwC worked with Talespin, a VR content development platform, on a soft skills study that found people could train four times faster than in a classroom, were 2.75 times more confident in applying the new skills and 3.75 times more emotionally connected to content than classroom learners.

VR and AR also show strong potential for technical training. They are already widely used in high-stakes jobs where mistakes can be hazardous, such as the aviation, defense, oil and gas, and chemical industries.

Fostering the use of the Metaverse will take time. It could be 10 to 15 years for full adoption – when those Minecraft fans get into the office environment and become our future employees. Some HR professionals believe that VR and AR could help bring back the sense of camaraderie that suffered a blow as teams stopped physically working in offices. All the major video conferencing applications are starting to support shared spaces for virtual offices.

Regardless of the current view, ignoring this huge shift in technology and labelling it as a passing fad would be a naive workforce planning mistake on a huge scale. HR leaders need to start thinking about how they can make use of it, facilitate its adoption by other departments and prepare for cultural change as it becomes a growing part of the way we operate.

If you would like to speak with us about how support and upskill HR teams in order to adopt new and future working practices, head over to the organisational change and HR services section of our website – or give us a call on +44 (0)1491 414 010.

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