Could the Metaverse Become the New Office?
Employers want workers back at their desks. Employees say they’re happier and more productive working from home. One possible compromise? The metaverse.
While the number of companies that are willing to consider a virtual presence compromise is still small, some are looking at how extended reality could offer a new option for workers.
Leading the way is Accenture (ACN). The company has developed the Nth Floor, a mixed reality experience that lets workers from around the world gather together for meetings, training sessions, coffee breaks and more.
It is, to be clear, much more than a Zoom call. Accenture has created a digital twin of many of its real-world offices, where people can collaborate, meet and network using virtual reality.
The experience starts early for new hires. Onboarding at Accenture today takes place at a virtual campus called One Accenture Park, offering a more personal orientation process. It allows the new hires to meet new coworkers in a way that is more personal and welcoming than a teleconference. This year, the company says 150,000 new hires will spend their first day at Accenture in the metaverse.
"XR helps our people go beyond in-person experiences to discover the art of the possible and reach new levels of workplace innovation," says Jason Warnke, senior managing director of Global IT and Global Digital Experiences Lead at Accenture.
Accenture is hardly alone, of course. Facebook (FB) is such an enthusiast of the metaverse that CEO Mark Zuckerberg changed the name of the company to Meta. And last August, the company unveiled the Horizon Workrooms app for its Quest 2 VR headset, which allows users to meet and collaborate with colleagues in a virtual space.
Beyond just floating around as an avatar, Horizon Workroom workers can bring their “physical” desks and work computers into the environment (via a remote desktop app). The result, says Facebook, is a feeling of being in the same room together physically, while everyone continues to work remotely.
That’s something that could become more useful over time as Meta has said it will let all employees work remotely even after the pandemic has passed.
Microsoft (MSFT), meanwhile, has begun rolling out Mesh for Microsoft Teams, which blends the mixed reality of that company’s metaverse offering with the productivity tools of Teams. Mesh for Teams has a variety of pre-built spaces to support everything from meetings to social mixers.
The goal, like Meta, is to create an environment where team members feel like they’re together and not just staring at a screen. Users can either represent themselves with avatars, or if their headset allows it, through lifelike photorealistic projections the company calls “Holoportation.”
“[It] signal[s] we’re in the same virtual space, we’re one team, we’re one group, and help take the formality down a peg and the engagement up a peg,” said Jeff Teper, a Microsoft corporate vice president. “We’ve seen that those tools have accomplished both goals of helping a team be more effective and also helping individuals be more engaged.”
The hurdle for all of these virtual workspaces, of course, is the need for an augmented or virtual reality headset. While prices have come down in recent years, adoption is still not where many thought it would be at this point.
That said, adoption is growing at a steady rate. IDC, in March, said the market for headsets grew 92.1% year-over-year, with shipments topping 11 million. And Meta is leading the pack, with 78% market share, but competition is on the way.
"Meta has led the AR/VR industry by offering a very accessibly priced headset and by moving beyond the core gaming audience, piquing the interest of non-gamers as well as businesses,” said Jitesh Ubrani, research manager for IDC Mobility and Consumer Device Trackers.
"The company still lacks major competitors though that will likely change over the course of the next twelve to 18 months when Sony will re-enter the space with the PSVR2, and we continue to expect headsets from the likes of Apple and other smartphone vendors to eventually launch and garner a lot of attention from end users,” Ubrani added.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.