How virtual reality is changing the workforce

Until now, the metaverse — that much-discussed virtual world in which users can interact using avatars and digital workspaces — has mostly felt like a fantasy, with tech experts and executives doing their best to guess how it will impact the working world. But as employers look to the future, the promise of virtual realities is beginning to crystallize.

According to a recent survey by PwC, 38% of companies are anticipating having the metaverse be part of their everyday business model within the next year, and 44% think the transition will happen within the next two to three years. Regardless of how far employers plan to settle into the metaverse, one thing is for sure: they have to be prepared.

“The metaverse already existed — anyone with children or who experienced it through gaming understood what it was immediately,” says Angela Lester, design and innovation leader at PwC. “But we didn’t really understand the power of it on the business side until recently. It could be anything from onboarding and training or collaborating and interacting with our colleagues. It’s also things like creating virtual content and creating new ways to interact with our customers.”

Read more: Metaverse of madness: Employers and employees at odds over virtual workplaces

And for end users, demand for the metaverse already exists. PwC’s research found that 65% of consumers want to explore places virtually in the next few years, 49% want to explore job opportunities and 46% want to interact with their colleagues using the metaverse.

Employers are making organizational changes to prepare to meet those demands. Fifty-one percent of companies already have designated roles that focus exclusively on the metaverse, and 46% are hiring people with metaverse-related skills — everything from cryptocurrency and NFT-focused jobs to creative positions focused on 3D design. Those kinds of skills may still be foreign to most business leaders, which is why 32% of employers plan to hire or appoint a “metaverse leader” that can help manage those teams and relay progress to the C-suite.

“The metaverse sounds really big and really scary, but it’s just using new technologies and new methodologies to start experimenting,” Lester says. “So we have to start thinking about upskilling the organization and bringing in new talent with skill sets ranging from people who understand the different technologies that already exist, to people who understand how to build the right partnerships.”

The use of new technology can create additional risks surrounding employee data management. Before making any kind of changes or leaping into the metaverseemployers will have to take cybersecurity into account, Lester says, whether that means recruiting more security personnel or evaluating existing risk policies to determine potential vulnerabilities.

Read more: 6 jobs that will boom as tech companies build the metaverse

“If you manage risk as you start building into the metaverse and you keep those aligned, the risks can stay highly mitigated,” Lester says. “We recommend that our clients really look at potential areas of risk like user identification or authentication, and have a good understanding of what exists already because any digital environment gets even more complex as you get into the metaverse.”

But the necessary work is well worth the potential result, according to Lester. Even the simplest integrations of metaverse-adjacent technology can present a number of opportunities for HR departments in terms of analytics and insights. Metaverse technologies allow employers to track and observe their workforce in different ways that can help them better understand their employee base, as well as provide mechanisms to make their experience better over time.

“The metaverse is not that different from the early stages of the internet,” Lester says. “Some companies just put out one page, and others put entire environments into the internet. Similarly, VR glasses and spaces are just one mechanism for looking at the metaverse. Hopefully in a few years, the metaverse is just going to be a normal part of doing business.”


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