“Within the next two or three years, I predict most virtual meetings will move from 2D camera image grids to the metaverse, a 3D space with digital avatars”. This is one of the predictions made by Microsoft founder Bill Gates in his traditional ‘Year in Review‘, the annual collection of ideas and perspectives on the future.
In short, the long-distance calls that have filled our working days over the last two years, perhaps with skipping audio and grainy images, may soon be over. The keyword for the future of work may now be quite different: “metaverse”.
What it’s all about
The term ‘Metaverse’ was first coined by science fiction writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel ‘Snow Crash‘.
In fact, it involves transcending the web’s two-dimensionality into a virtual three-dimensional space that we can share with others, who appear as avatars, as we guide our own avatars with virtual and augmented reality visors.
Facebook and Microsoft have both recently unveiled their development plans for the metaverse. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the company’s name change to Meta, explaining that “within the next decade, the metaverse will reach a billion people” and create millions of jobs.
So far, Oculus visors have mostly been used for video games. Zuckerberg also promised that we will also use them to study, work and even communicate with coworkers. Or, better put, with their avatars. Meta’s CEO envisions a world with several interconnected virtual communities for different activities, including work.
Facebook has also launched a software for company meetings, Horizon Workrooms. Microsoft also unveiled a Mesh, rolling out a 3D version of the 2D Teams platform with avatars coming together in three-dimensional virtual spaces designed to replicate meeting rooms and offices.
In practice, instead of just seeing colleagues and customers on the video meeting board, we can meet them in a virtual company space. And all this without leaving our office desk or home.
The implications for the future of work
The metaverse, therefore, could represent a new watershed in the development of distance working. “The idea is that you will eventually use your avatar to meet people in a virtual space, a space that replicates the feeling of being in a real room with them”, Gates explained.
Referring to cyberspace, the Microsoft founder pointed out the next steps. One entails creating new augmented reality glasses and gloves capable of faithfully projecting body language in the reality of the metaverse.
Microsoft is already working on this, developing 3D reality prototypes for teleworking, which even Bill Gates is said to have personally tested, saying he was “really excited about the potential”, with particular reference to what the changes in the world of work could be.
However, the metaverse will not completely replace face-to-face work, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella assured. Speaking in ‘The New World of Work’ column in the Harvard Business Review, Nadella explained that the metaverse is no substitute for “physical co-presence”. It could, however, represent a new horizon in organising work “from e-mails to audio calls, from video meetings to new immersive meetings”, but without eliminating “the physical meeting”. Overall, this means “more optionality and more flexibility for how human connection and connectivity can be maintained”.