Bringing the Metaverse to the Workplace
The metaverse may seem far out there for some—almost other worldly. But the reality is that the concept applied to the virtual workplace (aka the officeverse) is quickly gaining some down-to-earth traction amongst companies, especially when it comes to attracting talent that wants unique options for where and how they work.
So what exactly is the Officeverse? Imagine a virtual environment—available in 2D or 3D formats—that simulates physical office workplaces by incorporating traditional features like meeting rooms, huddle rooms, tables, writing boards, projectors and even lunchrooms. Imagine joining coworkers in avatar form without having to leave the comfort of your home and attending a virtual in-person meeting (if we allow the oxymoron). That’s the essential promise of the officeverse—going to the office without the commute. And if executed correctly, the officeverse can provide an innovative, economical and sustainable solution for organizations looking to enhance company culture and collaboration in a world increasingly shifting to hybrid work models.
Is the day coming when the officeverse replaces physical office workplaces? Highly unlikely. But in time, it is likely to augment or enhance physical office spaces—perhaps sooner than we might imagine. While office-using organizations continue to assess the best way for work to get done in a hybrid model, more organizations are looking at the officeverse as an additional workstyle option within a larger workplace ecosystem that offers employees choices among a variety of physical spaces and virtual tools. Yet, like most innovations, the officeverse will only be successful for organizations after they carefully assess where and how it will be most valuable for their respective business and talent.
Until that time, understanding the diverse applications that make the officeverse possible and the benefits the officeverse can generate is a good initial step.
Some organizations are boldly going where few have gone before
It shouldn’t be surprising that several first adopters are already testing the officeverse. Morningstar, for example, has had great success delivering its Morningstar Investment Conference (MIC) virtually over the past four years with Mesmerise’s Gatherings platform, which delivers a virtual experience through virtual reality headsets. In a recent article published by Skift, Leslie Marshall, Head of Experiential Marketing at Morningstar, noted that the conferences have been so successful that the company is now trialing virtual reality External Link for individual meetings that could make a significant impact on future corporate travel. She added that it’s more important than ever to educate the financial community about the metaverse and its anticipated impact on the future of the industry, given the significant efficiencies.
Another company that has taken advantage of the officeverse is eXp Realty. The residential brokerage uses a platform called Virbela, which enables remote teams to be connected and productive. Through Virbela, users can meet, host events, hold classes and more, enabling the company to service an entirely remote workforce all in an immersive and engaging world. In contrast to Mesmerise’s technology, Virbela’s experience comes to life on a 2D screen—think desktop or tablet—rather than through a virtual reality headset. As an early adopter, eXp Realty has grown to over 82,000 agents and employees and expanded to 21 international markets since implementing Virbela in 2016. And by at least one metric, eXp is ten times more efficient than its peers External Link in terms of operating costs, much in part to its use of the officeverse, according to the company.
Other companies such as Accenture, Deloitte and BCG, too, have introduced virtual reality headsets to their digital workplaces. Growing interest from leading brands such as these has spurred companies like Apple and Microsoft to invest more capital into augmented and virtual reality hardware and software. Continued competition and further development will likely create greater options for businesses and drive costs down. But already the cost barrier is relatively low. In many cases, outfitting a workforce with VR equipment and software is comparable to the cost of issuing that same population a pair of desk monitors.
So much more than video conferencing
The best part of the officeverse may be its versatility—it has the potential to be the best of both remote work and the physical office—as well as the potential to address several workplace challenges.
- An aid for culture building: Organizations deliver a lot of intangible value through their physical spaces. The physical office is the primary place where culture is built and sustained, and where the organization’s values are best translated and manifested. The layout of the space, its décor, style and branding all help establish the tone for the workplace, as well as communicate the type of company the organization aspires to be. The officeverse has the potential to deliver some of those same culture-building attributes.
- A way to facilitate collaborative encounters: One of the bigger criticisms of remote work is that it doesn’t facilitate organic, impromptu interactions between colleagues—the kind that often leads to the best ideas. But through their avatars, employees in the officeverse have the opportunity to experience those unplanned encounters, a chance to see familiar or unfamiliar faces and to escape a desk at home without leaving home.
And for those who prefer fewer distractions so they can concentrate on heads-down work? Not to worry. They simply toss on some headphones on their avatar and tune out the noise—still having the ability to wave hello to colleagues as they walk by.
- An opportunity to level the workplace playing field for everyone: By its very nature, a physical workspace can be limited in its ability to appeal to every employee, all the time. Tying work to a specific site can cause inconveniences such as long commute times. It can also hinder flexibility for caregivers to be where they’re needed outside the office. Even the best designed office can pose barriers to people whose sight, hearing or mobility are limited, or those to whom an office environment is overwhelming or unproductive.
- The flexibility of the officeverse, however, may be an answer to these challenges. Every employee can be seen by their colleagues and leaders, and anyone can have casual conversations with peers, managers or company executives—equitable virtual representation, in other words—even if they’re located on the other side of the globe. Mobility can be democratized. Captioning can be provided for the hearing impaired. Employees can also represent themselves the way they want to be seen through their avatars. The examples are many.
While these benefits are great for the workforce, they also have the potential to generate value for the larger organization, too. From Cushman & Wakefield’s Total Workplace research, we know that people who feel seen and represented have a higher sense of belonging and wellbeing. Employees with a higher perception of wellbeing are 2.5 times more productive, so facilitating a sense of belonging is both business- and people-critical.
- A way to operate more sustainably: The built environment contributes as much as 40% of global CO2 emissions, and a company’s real estate footprint accounts for nearly 60% of its emissions, on average. The officeverse, however, may be a path to lessen the built environment’s impact on the planet. It could potentially reduce the demand for new construction and allow for more repurposing of existing space, for example, providing a lower emissions option to companies grappling with ESG targets. Further, employees “commuting” to the officeverse from their desks at home would reduce real commutes, presumably providing additional positive outcomes for the environment.
A way to reestablish real connections: Many office workers have become accustomed to working remotely. As Cushman & Wakefield’s Experience Per Square Foot™ (XSF) Survey data shows globally, once office workers started working from home and demonstrated they could be successful in their jobs, being in the office five days a week seemed less imperative. But here again, the officeverse can play an important role. The connections people experience in the officeverse have the potential to fill a void for the connections employees miss on the days they work remotely.
While only time will answer how far and wide the officeverse grows, here’s what we know. Physical real estate is not going anywhere. Adoption of the officeverse will not happen overnight, and it may never be widespread. Further, not every organization can be or should be a first adopter. But the officeverse has the potential to provide an important virtual bridge between remote work and the physical office. For organizations that see some of its potential and value, the officeverse may provide yet one more “place” for employees to do their best work.
Exploring the Officeverse Firsthand
Understanding how the technology behind the officeverse works was one thing, but experiencing the officeverse mattered more to us. To that end, a team of 40 Cushman & Wakefield employees across five countries tested virtual reality headsets in a global pilot throughout the course of two months last year. After conducting a series of tracked situational tests, and before and after qualitative assessments, the team concluded that the experience of meeting someone in virtual reality does in fact help form bonds outside of the officeverse. Ninety percent of the new connections formed in the metaverse translated to further cross-regional collaboration and client development as relationships were grounded in having had this new experience together. That, in turn, translated seamlessly to new connections and higher interaction between colleagues. The consensus was that augmentation of reality allowed our employees to experience a new style of adhoc communication, introduction and connection that we previously thought exclusive to physical interactions.
As part of the ongoing research and piloting, the Cushman & Wakefield team is evaluating both virtual reality as well as 2D virtual spaces to determine the benefits and challenges of each type. Mesmerise spaces will play an important role in the officeverse. provided the pilot in its virtual reality office, allowing the team to learn about the bonds and limitations of the headset applications. Its 3D “immersiveness” keeps participants focused on the event, but the headset limits the ability to do standard tasks one might do during the event like taking notes. The 2D space, however, is a gamification of the normal office experience and lends itself to multi-tasking or doing standard tasks while participating in meetings.
Indicators would suggest that both 2D and 3D spaces will play an important role in the officeverse going forward. The team is also evaluating the opportunities and influence the officeverse may have on the future of real estate. The officeverse has the potential to support the rightsizing of real estate portfolios and giving the physical environment a clear purpose in the workplace ecosystem. If implemented and utilized correctly, the officeverse environment could ideally motivate people to connect in real life as well as virtually. The concept would allow organizations to create a global campus in the metaverse—reducing the need to travel great distances or develop large areas of land, which can have significant impacts on sustainability.