This is what life in the virtual office could look like


In the context of work, the digital divide is less about access to devices and connectivity and more about skills and mindsets. Many seasoned professionals never learned more than the rudimentary basics of email, web search, and Microsoft Office. Instead, they rely heavily on nearby colleagues or the IT helpdesk when things go wrong.

In contrast, young people in the virtual workplace have already demonstrated a competitive advantage. They have a more intuitive understanding of digital technology and the initiative to troubleshoot issues via YouTube tutorials, social media, and subreddits.

As a generation, they are also bigger players. As more and more work takes place in virtual reality – and you don’t have to share the somewhat eccentric vision of the metaverse that Mark Zuckerberg articulated last year to believe that will be the case – with massively multiplayer online games (MMOs ) as familiar Fourteen days and Robloxnot to mention the ability to manage multiple digital identities will only reinforce this advantage.

Much of the metaverse has yet to be built. VR has, of course, long been used in training for certain physical professions, from astronauts and pilots to law enforcement, surgery and manufacturing. When it comes to specialized machines or complex sites, the relative safety and cost advantages of virtual training are obvious. But it is in knowledge work, from software development to law to design, where the changes will be most profound.

How virtual workplaces can improve communication

For most people, working remotely during the pandemic has been characterized by alt-tabbing between communication apps and video conferencing platforms like Slack, Teams, and Miro. And there is certainly still a lot of room for improvement.

Scientific studies have found that collaboration among colleagues suffers when they work remotely. The exchange via e-mail or Slack is increasingly replacing personal conversations in real time and hinders communication.

Google itself has claimed that informal chats at coffee machines and lunch counters on its campus were responsible for innovations like Street View and Gmail. But with remote work, that kind of chance encounter is all but disappearing.

And of course, working remotely has a cost in terms of individual well-being as well. Stanford University researchers have found that what is known as zoom fatigue is caused by a combination of intense eye contact, lack of exercise, self-awareness of one’s video feed, and the cognitive demands of having to provide exaggerated feedback to signal understanding will. or worry.

Technological advances mean that solutions to these problems related to remote work are becoming possible. Collaboration software such as Metas Horizon Workrooms and Microsoft Mesh, which allow colleagues to meet as avatars in VR or join a real meeting as a photorealistic hologram, are already available.

The Metaverse 1.0 will undoubtedly see companies creating persistent VR workplace environments where employees can interact in real-time as embodied avatars. VR versions of office spaces can be designed to encourage random encounters and corridor chats.

For example, imagine having to leave the conference room and walk through a busy virtual atrium from one remote meeting to the next. This may sound far-fetched, but consider that Korean proptech company Zigbang has already opened a 30-story VR office called Metapolis. Employees choose an avatar and navigate to their desks via elevators and corridors. When they meet a colleague’s avatar, their webcam and microphone are activated so they can talk. The webcam and microphone will then turn off automatically when their avatar leaves.

The ability to use and read body language and actively participate in group discussions by doodling sticky notes or drawing on a virtual whiteboard should make remote meetings in VR more engaging and less sedentary. They require a much more active use of the neck, shoulders, arms and hands than a typical class on Zoom.

How to work as an avatar

It seems likely that as the metaverse develops, a new set of workplace norms will emerge. Team games, including virtual bowling nights and virtual ping-pong tournaments, could displace Zoom drinks as the standard social event for remote work.

Meanwhile, when it comes to attitude, VR could bring distinct benefits. It has been shown that “blind” auditions significantly increase the proportion of female musicians in symphony orchestras. It follows that interviewing as an avatar can reduce the impact of prejudice – unconscious or otherwise – against people based on their gender, age or appearance.

Just as custom “skins” (outfits) are a feature of many MMOs, there may also be a need for creativity for virtual fashion and accessories in the virtual workplace as people seek to express their personal brand within the constraints of professional clothing codes for avatars. Gucci has already sold virtual hats, handbags and sunglasses on the MMO platform Roblox.

Young people are hardest hit by the disruptions that COVID-19 has caused in the labor market. While some struggled to work productively in a shared apartment or with their parents, others were lured into entering businesses that didn’t even exist.

Nonetheless, the pandemic has also brought exciting insights into the potential evolution of remote work. Due to public health concerns and climate pressures, the latter is here to stay. As it evolves into the metaverse, it will continue to spawn abilities focused on younger people.

Sam Gilbert is Associate Researcher at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge.

This article is republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. This is what life in the virtual office could look like

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