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    The future of employee engagement is in the metaverse

    As the metaverse expands and sits more prominently within a brand’s marketing strategy, Damian Ferrar, senior vice-president, innovation director and global head of Jack X, examines what marketers need to consider around changes to employment. Here, he looks at the emerging opportunities and infrastructural challenges.

    The metaverse buzz is louder than a hacksaw. Companies are hiring chief metaverse officers. Metaverse Fashion Week is now a thing, with Dolce & Gabanna launching its virtual fashion collection in Decentraland. Chipotle is regularly serving up virtual burritos on Roblox, and other events and activations like this are becoming ubiquitous. 

    One opportunity in the metaverse isn’t quite making front-page headlines, but it should be: employee experiences. Amid a talent crisis, the continued adoption of hybrid working, and a looming economic recession where staff may experience pandemic burnout levels, the question all companies should be asking is: how can we use the metaverse to enhance our relationship with employees? 

    The metaverse offers massive opportunities

    The pandemic has driven a re-evaluation of what, how and why we do things. The digital transformation that transpired has led to an element of exhaustion, monotony and disengagement. People are present online, but are they engaged?

     The metaverse provides an opportunity to use technology that puts people first v traditional collaboration tools that most of the time don’t provide value to the audience or the brand/business. Tech is in the background and people are in the foreground – a shift from scrolling or viewing to exploring and interacting. 

    A recent Lenovo survey of 7,500 working adults showed that 44% of employees are prepared to work in the metaverse. Some are unwilling (20%), but 35% are neutral or unsure. There’s a difference between employees willing to work in the metaverse v wanting to work in the metaverse.

    The metaverse might be in its infancy – a lower-resolution version of what it will be in the future – but that shouldn’t preclude companies from jumping in and adopting it. The early bird gets the worm and lays the foundation for success.

    Some companies, such as Accenture, are already using it for onboarding and to convene remote workers. Some are designing spaces purely to create connections and friendships for new employees working from home. Others are creating spaces for collaboration between teams, such as BMW’s future factory. Hyundai developed a metaverse experience for training and as an R&D platform to understand just what an employee experience in the metaverse could look like. In addition, it has also launched Studio M, with the ambition to create a creative and flexible company culture featuring online concerts and augmented reality (AR) launch events. And let’s not forget KFC’s virtual employee training room where new employees head to a virtual kitchen and are taught to cook chicken ‘the KFC way’ by the Colonel himself. 

    Metaverse workplaces can provide clarity between home and work life, just as people used to walk into a physical office and there was a general awareness of comings and goings; this can be reflected in digital worlds. 

    Learning and training will be transformed through ‘hands-on’ multi-participant training simulations – from virtual reality (VR) to significantly more engaging web3 experiences that deliver ‘hands-on’ training and personalized interactive scenario planning ie VR training for surgery, or extended reality (XR) training for the aerospace industry. Leaning on the foundations of the metaverse in gaming, training will become gamified. 

    If they build it, they will come

    A digital ‘World HQ’ campus can create a more compelling, authentic, interactive and engaging remote and hybrid employee experience. But you can’t just make the space, just as an office building doesn’t create the office culture. It’s the people in it that define the experience. Companies must also lean into all the possibilities, demonstrating value to people’s lives. For example, use artificial intelligence (AI)-powered synthetic humans to act as advisors and assistants to take on admin or repetitive tasks, freeing up people to be more productive. Allow employees to send their AI-enabled digital twin to meetings. 

    It’s also an opportunity to think about new roles for the future, such as employee experience brand world curator, or employee experience game design lead. One of the founding principles of the metaverse is that it is decentralized, so with any employee experience, you must build it WITH your community, not for them. It’s for engagement, not management and control.

    It’s also not about coercing people to go to the same space. Platforms will allow for multiple serendipitous meetings and conversations. You can look at personalized private rooms too – for example, AI-powered wellbeing spaces where no one will see you go in, and you can get personalized support.

    Sure, there will be challenges to overcome – IT infrastructure, management, curation, even addiction and community supervision (zero tolerance for bullying or harassment). But like every new platform, this comes with the territory. 

    Unlearn the past

    The real challenge in the future of work is that shared beliefs from the past cloud our judgment on the future. We need to ‘unlearn,’ deal with and embrace uncertainty and uncover new ways of working. Businesses must create blended working models allowing employees to move seamlessly between IRL, digital and RT3D virtual working processes. Lean on established metaverse technologies such as avatars, gaming, VR and hand-tracking controllers to ease employees into the habit. 

    For example, we eased into the concept by creating a metaverse museum with guided tours for employees and clients to explore and learn about the history of the metaverse and move around in a controlled virtual space. It’s like exposure therapy. The more you try it, the easier it becomes and the less likely you are to avoid it. 

    Businesses are just getting used to the digital workplace, but we are at the dawn of a new digital transformation – a shift from web2 to web3. It’s what the future of work will become, so companies need to jump in now and experiment. Rinse and repeat. Now is the time to jump on the train, or you’ll only get left at the station. 

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