Is the metaverse the answer to hybrid work’s engagement problem?

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Add engagement to the list of employer concerns in 2023.

Back in March, a Challenger, Gray & Christmas survey found that more than 80% of HR executives were concerned about talent leaving their organizations, with many citing a lack of engagement with off-site workers as a pain point.

Months later, a conference board survey found similar decrease in commitment levelsalthough the organization noted little variation between remote, hybrid and on-site workers on this issue.

Whether or not on-site presence really factors into engagement, it’s clear that many employers are thinking about how to improve retention—of that engagement is an essential component – in a pandemic-driven environment of flexibility.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and augmented reality technology company Reality Labs, believes the answer to this question could lie in the Metaverse. The term describes a proposed, immersive version of the Internet that would integrate virtual reality, augmented reality and other technologies.

The company has already demonstrated potential use cases for its tech, perhaps most prominently through its Horizon Workrooms product. For the uninitiated, workrooms can be thought of as a video game-like simulation of an in-person meeting in which team members are represented by digital avatars.

Earlier this month, Meta publishes the results from a targeted sample business survey they said was carried out with more than 2,000 employees and 400 business leaders across the UK and the US. 2022. Additionally, 65% of employees said they were more likely to stay in jobs where they had access to AR or VR.

The results show that employees have expectations not only of their employers’ technological investments, but also of the inclusion of communities in an increasingly virtual work environment, said Ade Ajayi, head of global sales at Reality Labs, in an interview. But current remote and hybrid work processes, such as video calls, may not be enough.

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“One of the findings is that we see that employees feel happiest when they are included at work, and these employees say that video calling interferes with that,” Ajayi said. “They don’t get the same experience of feeling included in the workplace.”

Instead, teams can turn to applications like Workrooms to experience virtual interactions in new ways. Ajayi said his team at Reality Labs periodically meets with the company’s Quest VR devices. The experience is very different from a video call, he noted, because users can interact with each other’s avatars and use visual aids like whiteboards to communicate.

He compared immersive tech in the 2020s to cell phones in the early 2000s. “The expectation is not that you’re on your phone 24/7 or throughout your work hours,” Ajayi said. “There are times when using your cell phone is the most productive for what you’re trying to do. The same will happen with virtual reality [and] augmented reality.”

The HR reality

It’s important for employers to recognize the gaps that exist when using the collaboration tools that make remote and hybrid work possible, according to JP Gownder, VP and principal analyst at Forrester. These tools can also have drawbacks. Gownder said psychological researchers have found evidence of a demonstrable user fatigue experience, for example with video calls.

Furthermore, the emergence of 3D spaces where employees can interact with the types of tools offered by workrooms and similar platforms is promising, Gownder added; “It’s designed to solve problems that aren’t easily solved otherwise.”

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But there are several hurdles employers must consider before bringing Metaverse into the fold. VR, eg has already been employed in a number of training-specific scenarios, but Gownder said companies are generally far from the point at which it would make sense for employees to transition to spending a large part of their days in virtual spaces.

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