7 June 2022
The Metaverse – 3 of 6 Insights
For the last two years during the pandemic, office employees have been working from home and seeing each other virtually in team or Zoom meetings. Currently, we are discussing return-to-office arrangements and what the office of the future should look like. At the same time, independent ecosystems are developing under the term Metaverse, a new kind of internet and virtual social interaction with avatars and their own currencies. What does this development mean for the business world and what will a normal working day look like in the future?
How exactly the future of the Metaverse and work will look, is up to companies, their employees and the market itself. Future work and collaboration can be supplemented by virtual realities or take place completely virtually. Employees can jump into a company's own Metaverse with their individual avatar, meet their colleagues, customers or external staff in virtual workspaces to work on or present a 3D object or join the next meeting. This is already happening, and can be part of the answer to the increasing labour shortage of skilled workers. If it is no longer important where exactly one is located, teams and resources can be planned differently and more efficiently.
However, it is not only about employees working in the office. A large part of the activities take place outside the office. Augmented reality (AR) and augmented intelligence (AI) in particular are creating new possibilities for processing tasks and workforce management in this area. AI solutions can provide employees with the next work steps, evaluation of data or additional information. If a service employee needs assistance with a technical problem at a customer's site, an expert can connect remotely and help to solve the problem. Voice-controlled AR devices with micro displays and cameras that show the user an image below the user's line of sight. It enables the expert to see through the eyes of the service employee on site, guide him or her and provide the relevant information directly on the display.
The Metaverse and related technologies will influence how we design workspaces and processes. Information can be provided better and more efficiently to the relevant group of people or in relation to a product.
Building a corporate Metaverse is also business advertising. Job interviews often already take place in the form of video conferences. In a next step, employers and applicants can meet virtually in the Metaverse. The employees of the future, who grow up playing video games like Fortnite and find virtual concerts normal, probably have their own idea of interesting companies and employers. Therefore, the consideration of whether a company buys "land" in the Metaverse and whether this "land" is more likely to be next to Adidas or in Snoop Dogg's neighborhood may not be reasonable.
How working in the Metaverse or with AR/VR goggles will affect mental health, will be seen if people use the devices and platform frequently. Especially when the boundaries between work and private life are blurred, company policies on recreation and break times will be helpful. It will also be important to sensitize employees to these issues and prevent impairments.
On the other hand, companies can use virtual safety training, education for hazardous work environments or practice emergency scenarios without disrupting operations. Through 3D simulations, employees can be instructed in machines or familiarized with work environments or products in a safe environment.
The Metaverse and related technologies are very likely to create new jobs. They offer the possibility of qualifying current employees for new tasks and requirements. Virtual training can also help to convey content better and more vividly.
It will be essential that employees accept the use of new technologies and tools or the use of the Metaverse as a new platform. For this reason, employers will need to train their staff in how to use them.
Working in a digital environment generates a lot of data that relates not only to the products and the company, but also to the employees. It is in the corporate interest and will be part of new tasks that employees create, develop and test content in day-to-day business. The use of artificial intelligence should also be considered in this context.
At the same time, the creation of content and the associated data make it possible to track who has worked on which digital product, when, and for how long, or who has spent time in the corporate Metaverse. Monitoring and recording work performance or behaviour at work is technically easy to implement. In addition, gestures, facial expressions and emotional reactions as well as the (private) environment can be recorded through VR goggles, cameras, microphones and sensors designed to immerse users in the virtual experience. This is extremely sensitive data and may provide employers information about biometric data, health, religious beliefs or origin. In terms of labour and data protection law, it should be reviewed which data is processed and whether or to what extent it can or may be used or evaluated.
IT solutions for setting up such a company Metaverse or virtual workplaces usually provide analytic tools for this purpose, in order to track who has been in which virtual space and which content has been used and for how long. With regard to the customer’s behaviour, lines of sight and walking paths can also be assessed. It aims to help calculating the return on investment. In terms of employment and data protection law, the use of such analytic tools should be reviewed carefully beforehand, especially with regard to employee data. In addition, information and documentation obligations should be considered. If works councils exist, the far-reaching co-determination rights should be considered. Works agreements can also be considered as a legal basis for data protection in this context.
Another important aspect is the protection of trade secrets. Companies should ensure that only authorized users of the Metaverse have access to internal digital information. But what happens if the digital identity is stolen or made available by the employee without authorization and third parties gain access to internal company areas and information? Data security and compliance management systems should cover these scenarios.
New questions will also arise, such as whether employers can determine what avatars should look like in the business context. Can employers make specifications, or may an employee also change his or her appearance or gender? Discrimination should be avoided in any case. Existing regulations and policies should be adjusted in accordance with how the company expects employees to behave in the virtual environment. In the Metaverse, employees need to be protected if boundaries are crossed in the virtual world and harassment or bullying takes place.
New technologies are often useful as compliance tools. As the Metaverse and the potential uses of AR or VR are being developed, emerging processes should be included in compliance management systems and simplifications of these processes through these technologies should be considered. For example, AR glasses can be used to verify whether an employee is wearing gloves, which are mandatory as protective equipment or to comply with hygiene regulations.
From an HR and labour law perspective, we are witnessing exciting developments that will have a direct impact on our everyday working lives and perceptions. They offer new opportunities and possibilities, but also challenges and risks.
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