A revolution for work culture

In the second of our series of articles on the future of work in the metaverse, author David Mattin takes a look at three ways in which the metaverse will empower organizations to redesign their culture at the deepest level.

A revolution for work culture

Two powerful, ongoing shifts are reshaping the future of work.

The first is about workplace culture. That is to say, it’s about people. It’s a shift with deep roots, which have been strengthened by the pandemic.

For organizations large and small, lockdowns were a stark reminder that the ties that bind a team are fragile. Meanwhile, even before the pandemic, social movements that aim to build a more just and equal world were rippling through workplaces. Since 2020, that momentum has only accelerated.

Fairness, inclusion, team spirit: These values are eternal. But now, their importance has been highlighted as never before. In the 2020s, we’ll see a new push to reinvigorate these values at work.

The second big shift? It’s about technology. Specifically, the emergence of the metaverse: An internet you can step inside, fuelled by VR and AR.

Now, those two shifts are colliding. In the coming decade, VR and AR environments will unlock new ways for workplace teams to live out their values. That means new ways to be together, learn from one another, and build team spirit.

All this will unfold across three dimensions. We’re calling them:

  • Inclusive presence
  • Metaverse mentors
  • A democracy of spaces

Taken together, these trends will open up a wealth of new opportunities to build fairer, more inclusive and more open organizational cultures. Let’s take a look at them.

Inclusive presence

Inclusive presence

At the heart of the way the metaverse will transform work is a simple promise: Teams can be together in-person, even when they’re apart.

As we saw in Part 1 of this series, A journey to the infinite office, the practical benefits are huge. But this change can mean a revolution for culture, too.

Inclusive presence

Physically distributed, remote and hybrid teams will be able to come together in AR and VR environments, with all the benefits that brings. The chance to check in with a colleague face-to-face and really ask how they’re doing. The shared joke. The chance meeting that sparks a new project. These are the small moments that add up to something greater: Team culture.

But there’s also a powerful inclusion aspect to all this. Physical presence is a privilege all too often taken for granted by those who don’t face obstacles that can prevent it.

Think of the professional who juggles work with the care of a young child or an elderly parent - a burden that still falls disproportionately on women. The UK’s Office for National Statistics says 24% of female workers are primary carers for another person, compared with just 13% of their male counterparts.

Think, too, about the person with a disability who faces difficulties with travel, or workplace access. Those difficulties are reflected in decreased workplace participation. The UN says that in most developed countries, unemployment among those with disabilities is around twice the rate of those without.

“Thanks to VR and AR work environments, everyone gets the chance to be ‘in the room’ - to shape that crucial strategic or creative decision, to bond with colleagues, and to do their best work.”

Inside the metaverse, all this can change.

Thanks to VR and AR work environments, the busy parent can be present at that crucial strategic meeting while staying home so he can pick his children up from school. The wheelchair user can take that tour of the new factory, even if the physical version would have been inaccessible. Everyone gets the chance to be ‘in the room’ - to shape that crucial strategic or creative decision, to bond with colleagues, and to do their best work.

What’s more, those with disabilities and people who are neurodiverse won’t be limited by the physical spaces and tools available to them. Instead, they’ll be able to personalize their surroundings – sounds, colors and more – and their workstations, to suit them (there will be more on this in the final post in our series).

There can be no great workplace culture that isn’t an inclusive culture. And in the metaverse, that’s exactly what we can build.

Metaverse mentors

Metaverse mentors

What is an organizational culture?

At the heart of any answer is this truth: Culture is a machine for the sharing of knowledge. That knowledge ranges from the formal – company procedures, for example – to the intangible: the set of aspirations, customs and values that comprise the spirit of the organization.

Another way, then, that the metaverse can transform workplace culture? By transforming the way knowledge spreads.

We all understand the informal learning that comes along with sharing a space – an office, factory floor, studio – with more experienced colleagues. Because the metaverse will allow physically distributed teams to be together in-person, it will reignite this age-old form of workplace learning.

But the impact of the metaverse on workplace learning goes even deeper. AR and VR environments will allow for entirely new kinds of workplace learning experiences, too.

Master mechanics will walk apprentices through the replacement of a serpentine belt. Trainee surgeons from around the world will stand with a heart surgeon as she fixes a rare heart defect. Customer service representatives will come together in VR to roleplay scenarios, and take feedback on body language.

Another revolutionary benefit? In-person access to the best teachers and mentors. In the metaverse, the best marketer in the company can host a live, in-person masterclass for teams all over the world. That heart surgeon demonstrating the rare procedure? She can be the world’s leading exponent — and everyone can watch her at work.

Think personal brands are powerful now? Today’s influencers will pale in comparison next to the metaverse mentors whose expertise - whose very (virtual) presence - can be monetized on a global scale.

“Today, only a privileged minority gets access to those kinds of workplace learning opportunities. In the years to come, millions will be able to step into the room with the best.”

Imagine, too, what work looks like for that master mechanic. Do cars still need to drive to his garage? Or does he instead need to develop a library of subscription content that can be delivered through smart devices? Will technology turn some people in traditionally frontline roles into knowledge or even technology workers?

Today, only a privileged minority gets access to those kinds of workplace learning opportunities. In the years to come, millions will be able to step into the room with the best.

Be in the room where it happens

Be in the room where it happens

There’s a thread running through much of what we’ve seen so far.

It’s the way the metaverse transforms our relationship with physical space. And that change has implications for workplace culture that run beyond even inclusivity and learning.

The way we think about and use physical spaces at work isn’t just a matter of practicality. It’s also governed by value judgments and hierarchies of perceived importance.

There are highly-valued spaces: The global HQ, the boardroom, the aftershow party. For junior staff, access to those spaces can mean the difference between being noticed, or not. Making an impact, or not. Being promoted, or not. And all too often, access to those spaces comes via a lucky introduction or the sheer chance of living in the right city.

“The way we think about and use physical spaces at work isn’t just a matter of practicality. It’s also governed by value judgments and hierarchies of perceived importance. The metaverse offers the chance to redesign this hierarchy of spaces.”

The metaverse offers the chance to redesign this hierarchy of spaces.

A junior member of staff with a bold innovation idea? She can present her idea to the boardroom in person. Sales leaders at the global HQ? They can host a reception for high-performing team members from across the organization - wherever they are in the world. The annual company team day? Everyone gets to go to the afterparty.

The possibilities are unlimited. In the metaverse, the CEO can handpick colleagues from anywhere in the world and host a meeting - not just in a virtual space but in ‘actual space’ space.

Humans are inescapably social creatures and we’re hardwired to want to be together. By allowing new ways to make that happen, the metaverse will offer organizations the chance to re-design culture at the deepest level.

To bring senior leaders and frontline staff together more often, and in new ways. To change the way teams, and the company as a whole, make and communicate decisions. To be more mindful about access to highly valued spaces. And sometimes, just to have more fun.

Seizing the opportunity

Seizing the opportunity

The emergence of the metaverse means huge opportunities to do workplace culture differently, and better.

But that opportunity is also a challenge. It’s a call for every organization to step up.

Whether we’re talking about a revolution in inclusivity, mentoring or the democracy of spaces, working in the metaverse won’t make any of this happen. That’s up to all of us.

It will mean figuring out new workplace habits and customs. Designing new spaces that don’t import legacy prejudices or serve only a few at the expense of the rest. Figuring out new organizational structures that are suited to - and make the most of - work in virtual environments.

This mission belongs to all of us in the years ahead. And yes, it places special responsibilities on the technology companies working to make the metaverse possible.

Get this journey right, and it will mean the chance for every organization to live out its values as never before.

The best place to start? With a wide-ranging, internal conversation: One intended to pin down what those values are. Define what your organization believes in, and what it stands for. Then get to work.

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