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August 17, 2022

Is Your Organization Ready for the Metaverse?

Jonathan Hancock

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There we were inside a treehouse, set high above the Amazonian rainforest – but this wasn't reality... this was the metaverse.

Luckily we were all newbies in Virtual Reality (VR) – members of a Mind Tools working group charged with experimenting with digital headsets and online hangouts, to explore the possibilities for our business.

The first time I joined my teammates in a virtual meeting room, everything was going well – until I went to talk to Alice and accidentally walked through her. 

Then I noticed that our colleague Jason had somehow slipped below ground level, and only his head and shoulders were poking out. 

The mood that afternoon was fun and forgiving, as we got to grips with the sleek new equipment we’d been given. But, despite all our technical fumblings and first-time faux-pas, I think we were all quickly aware of the huge potential for our organization.  

It also got us talking about what we'd need to do to be ready for the coming revolution. Because VR is just the start: the metaverse is expanding!

But... are you ready to step inside? 

Meet the Metaverse 

As currently envisioned, the metaverse is an immersive virtual space for playing, shopping, buying, socializing, and working.

You'll often be represented there by an avatar – a digital character that may or may not look like the real you. You'll be able to interact via increasingly sensitive VR and Augmented Reality (AR) kits, as well as linking up through the flat screen of your laptop, tablet or phone. [1] 

Money, inevitably, is one of the metaverse's key drivers. Research suggests the potential for profits is huge – maybe $5 trillion by 2030. [2] But so, too, is the likely impact on our lives. Americans already expect to spend four hours in the metaverse every day within five years. And Bill Gates predicts that most work meetings will take place there within three. "We're approaching a threshold where the technology begins to truly replicate the experience of being together in the office," he says. [3] 

For Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, however, the word isn't "replicate," but "revolutionize." He’s described settling down in a local café, connecting your AR glasses to the Wi-Fi, and instantly having all your physical screens in front of you in virtual form – plus the ability to "teleport in" collaborators as required. [4]

That's just one example of how the metaverse could give people greater choice about where, when and how they work, while helping them do their jobs better – and enjoy them more. 

There are huge opportunities for businesses to operate within the metaverse, too – through new types of advertising and merchandizing. It will be both a communal space and a highly individualized world of personal and professional possibilities. 

Real Wins in the Metaverse… 

My Mind Tools colleagues and I have continued to experiment with the fledgling metaverse, and we've discovered some clear benefits for us there.  

For a start, we can connect with each other on a new level. As our Head of Learning Experience, Ross Garner, puts it, "Meeting in VR has been great for creating a feeling of 'togetherness.' After hours of video calls, it's a relief to be sharing the same space with colleagues, and you can truly focus on one another."

Learning experience designer Claire Gibson has seen it improve communication. She says: "Being able to turn your head and nod at people and smile, the audio and visual social cues that you get – the headsets are miles ahead."

Claire also sees "massive potential for skills development." After all, where better to practice emergency drills at power stations, for example? Our group discussed how a famous helicopter training course was shortened from 18 weeks to 10 after it incorporated simulations in VR. [5] 

At Mind Tools we love the metaverse's potential to enhance creativity. I've been in VR meetings where a futuristic setting has created an air of ambition and open-mindedness. I've seen colleagues display their ideas on virtual boards – which others have added to in clever and memorable ways. 

And these are just simple meetings: imagine how an engineering company, a design agency, or a medical team could make the most of the metaverse. As Alice says, "Having this creative freedom will really inspire innovation." 

… and Causes for Concern 

However, our experience also flagged up some potential problems.

We all had issues with the technology in one way or another – trying to work out which password to use for which platform or app, for example, or struggling with our headsets and hand-held controllers. "I didn't find any of it intuitive," Alice says, "so I found it hard to navigate the dashboard. I felt simultaneously underwhelmed and overwhelmed."

Companies keen to get started with VR will need to support their people through these difficulties, and be aware that spending time in the metaverse may not be easy – or even possible – for everyone. Jason found it made him feel nauseous. And I always ended a session feeling exhausted by the intensity of the experience. 

Ross discovered that not all communication feels right in VR. "More sensitive conversations don't feel appropriate for discussion between digital avatars!" That's a good point for managers to consider before scheduling all their one-on-ones in the virtual world!  

And what happens if people behave inappropriately in the metaverse? How will organizations – and, in extreme cases, the law – address that? The two-dimensional internet can be toxic and harmful enough, so how will we keep ourselves and others safe in immersive 3D? 

We discussed all these points, and more, in the Mind Tools L&D Podcast: Live From the Metaverse

5 Tips for Navigating the Metaverse 

Based on our own experiments, and advice from experts, here are five tips from Mind Tools for making your way into the metaverse. 

1. Try It  

VR technology won’t break the bank, and many platforms and apps are cheap or even free. Your people will likely be excited to try them out, so tap into that enthusiasm now.  

Allow plenty of time for them to experiment, as the equipment can take some getting used to. And be ready for some to say that it isn't for them!  

2. Play Games

Games like Fortnite, Decentraland and Second Life are probably the best current examples of what the metaverse could become: vast, immersive online spaces where people gather to communicate and collaborate.  

And VR games are great for mastering the basic hardware, and learning how to move around and manipulate things. We found they boosted our understanding of VR all around, as well as our confidence to use it for work. 

3. Consider Your Customers  

As soon as the Mind Tools working group entered the virtual world, we were talking about how to help our customers and clients to benefit from it. What about your business? Will the metaverse let you engage with your market in new ways? Advertise better? Sell differently? Make new partnerships?  

The sooner you spot your unique opportunities, the sooner you can seize them.  

4. Think About Behavior

As learning experience designer Claire Gibson says, working in VR involves "… trying to learn another set of interpersonal norms." What's the impact of how you enter or leave a virtual room, for example? How should you design your avatar? What are the "rules" for interacting with others in a shared 3D space?

Discuss these and other pertinent questions early on. And consider agreeing on some behavior guidelines or even company rules before you start using it.  

Metaverse expert Matthew Ball has warned of the potential for "… abuse, harassment, radicalization, and misinformation in 3D digital spaces." [6] 

And our own Alice Gledhill gave up on testing VR because of one very unsettling experience. "A stranger tried flirting with me in a virtual space, and started following my avatar around! Creepy! And there's no real way to police that behavior yet because it's not in a real, physical space."

So start talking about behavior in the metaverse from the outset – and keep talking about it. 

5. Be Strategic

We soon discovered that VR can become a distraction (if you let it). So, once the initial excitement is over and you've found your feet, work out what you want to do with the tech.  

At Mind Tools, we've focused on using it to connect and collaborate. Our Learning Experience team now has regular metaverse meetings, and even holds some of their one-on-ones there.

Other companies will need to focus on getting their advertising into the best places or adapting their services for people to use virtually.  

So set a strategy that's right for you – but be prepared to change it, as the metaverse takes shape, and as we learn more about the possibilities and pitfalls involved.

How is your organization getting ready for the metaverse? Have you tried VR yet? And, if so, what did your people make of it? What more can businesses do to prepare for this brave new world? Please share your thoughts with us in the Comments section, below. 

References 

[1] Ball, M. (2020). The Metaverse: What It Is, Where to Find it, and Who Will Build It [online.] Available here. [Accessed August 16, 2022.]

[2] McKinsey and Company (2022). Value Creation in the Metaverse [online]. Available here. [Accessed August 16, 2022.]

[3] Gates, B. (2021). Reasons for Optimism After a Difficult Year [online]. Available here. [Accessed August 16, 2022.]

[4] Newton, C. (2021). Mark in the Metaverse [online]. Available here. [Accessed August 16, 2022.]

[5] McKinsey Digital (2022). Innovative and Practical Applications of the Metaverse [online]. Available here. [Accessed August 16, 2022.]

[6] McKinsey Digital (2022). The Promise and Peril of the Metaverse [online]. Available here. [Accessed August 16, 2022.]

© Original artwork from Anna Montgomery.

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