What does the metaverse mean for internal communication

By Advita Patel.

Imagine waking up in 2032 and being able to choose where you do your morning workout – on Venice Beach or outside Sydney Opera House. A future that allows you to pick your hours, where you want to work, what projects you want to work on and be paid immediately via your crypto wallet. A place where you can meet your colleagues in virtual rooms, regardless of where they are based.

This may seem like a utopia but it’s more of a possibility than you think, thanks to the metaverse.

There may be some scoffing at the back of the room, but the metaverse and everything it involves should be taken a little more seriously by communicators and business owners. More than 10 trillion dollars will be invested in the metaverse by 2026.

So, what is the metaverse? There are many complex definitions (see my jargon buster) but to put it in simple terms, it’s a virtual reality world, where users can connect and experience things as they would in the physical world. It allows users to interact with a digital projection of objects and people, using existing augmented and virtual reality technology. You can also access a crypto wallet that contains digital money for digital purchases.

In some metaverses, people are buying digital land for thousands of dollars and dressing their avatars in designer goods via non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

Why should we care?

It sounds slightly surreal to be thinking of something so advanced when you look at the current technology in many organisations. Clunky IT systems, VPN tokens, multiple sign-ins, outdated phones, messy infrastructures and inaccessible platforms. As frustrating as this seems, think back to 25 years ago when we were still connected to a 56kb modem, and a webpage took three minutes to load.

With the shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 bringing so much change in such a short space of time, you can only imagine the possibilities of Web 3.0 – a place where the metaverse will belong.

The concept of the metaverse isn’t new. It has existed in the gaming world since the mid-2000s, but with folks like Zuckerberg and Microsoft’s Nadella seeing the transformational benefits this world could bring to the modern workplace, it will be fast-tracked into the mainstream.

So, what does all this mean for internal communication?

The metaverse and the IT platforms which support it are the new ways people will communicate with each other in organisational workforces.

But with a limited knowledge base and current IT infrastructures, it’s going to be a while before the metaverse becomes more mainstream in a modern workplace. This doesn’t mean we should take our eye off the ball.

We need to take this opportunity and start thinking about the impact this technology will have on the colleague experience journey in the future, and understand leaders’ appetite for investment, especially when it comes to bringing in expert knowledge.

This type of digital transformation requires specialist skills and experience and as internal communicators, we need to look at our skill gaps. We should also be reviewing our current channels and looking at innovative ways we can start introducing things like mixed reality, using virtual and augmented tech, so we are future fit.

We’re already seeing many organisations use this tech quite successfully such as training in healthcare. Six years ago, I introduced virtual reality to Manchester Airport as a new channel, and it transformed the way we communicated a major change programme to colleagues.

There’s so much potential in this new technology for improved employee experience, including more personalised training, real-time experience and connection to a hybrid/remote workforce.

The challenges

With everything, there are also some downsides, and more work to do to address them.

The biggest challenge is cost. It isn’t cheap and digital poverty is a real concern. Not everyone will have access to sophisticated technology and some centralised infrastructures will not be able to cope.

Then we have the privacy and security challenge. This world is still very much unregulated. There have already been reports of digital sexual abuse and violence. Regulations and laws need to be established before it can be expanded.

There are environmental benefits in terms of less travel, therefore saving on carbon emissions. However, a recent study estimates that training just one AI model could generate 626,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, which is more than five times the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by a car in its lifetime.

However, as the tech evolves and more people start to invest and research, I have no doubt that some of these challenges will be solved over time.

Where do we go from here?

I would encourage you to engage with this trend. Recognise your learning areas, and if you’re ‘met-adverse’, look for training and information.

Also, follow experts like Cathy Hackl, Yat Siu and listen to my latest ‘A Leader Like Me’ podcast where I chat to Rahul Sood, who talks about this space.

Advita Patel is the director of CommsRebel and co-founder of A Leader Like Me.

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Image by Khanchit Khirisutchalual on iStock

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