Something is going on in the Metaverse. Gamers, technology companies and luxury brands have spread their playgrounds as pioneers in the virtual parallel world. The benefits for companies and their teams are still being explored. With sobering results.
Adidas, Louis Vuitton or Gucci communicate with their target groups on platforms such as Roblox, The Sandbox or Decentraland, invite them to shop in virtual stores, visualize products in 3D or organize events such as the digital Fashion Week. In this way they gain competitive advantage with their young target groups.
To be part of the Metaverse community, all you need is a laptop, a head-mounted display (HMD), and a working internet connection. The real and virtual world are already merging – even if it’s still a bit choppy. Three-dimensional animations, applications, or images replace the two-dimensional content in the Metaverse, which is received via desktop or mobile devices. The fun factor in the Metaverse is high, but can you also work together productively there?
Remote working is not yet mature
One thing has been confirmed after two years of the pandemic: working from the home office with desktop sharing and video conferencing has lifted employees quite a bit over the lockdowns, but couldn’t really offset the benefits of physical collaboration.
Not every employee feels comfortable working from home. In addition, complex projects depend on smooth cooperation from planning to commissioning. New perspectives are needed on how employees from a wide range of disciplines can work on the same project in one room and directly contribute their skills.
The office is now a place for “collective thinking and corporate culture,” Springer authors Steffen Rietz and Falk Steinhoff write about creating and using virtuality (page 127). According to the current state of the art, an “atmosphere to support sustainable job satisfaction” (page 128) can also be created in the virtual 3D environment.
Metaverse companies are already bringing their teams together in real time across spatial boundaries as subject-related avatars to work and learn. Should work in the virtual reality (VR) to continue to be lifted to a higher level, companies depend on the acceptance of their employees. Because while augmented reality (AR), which only adds virtual elements to reality, VR requires the user to fully immerse himself in the virtual world and perceive it as a “different” reality at the time.
Looking back at the history of the Internet, from PC LAN to mobile Internet, the immersion in Internet use is gradually increasing, while the distance between virtual and reality is gradually narrowing. Following the trend, the “ultimate form” of the Internet, “Metaverse,” emerges when immersion and participation reach their peak. (Zhiyi Liu/Yejie Zheng on augmented reality and deep synthesis)
In Germany, the metaverse is a largely unexplored dimension, according to a representative online survey by Yougov and Statista this spring. About 58 percent of those surveyed admitted they had never heard of it, another 19 percent knew the term but couldn’t imagine anything else, and only 19 percent knew about the metaverse.
According to the results, the age group of 25 to 34 years is particularly open to experiences in virtual reality. 13 percent have already been involved in VR environments such as virtual chats and 48 percent can imagine. However, the 55-year-olds lag behind, of whom very few have experience with the metaverse (five percent) and almost half (47 percent) of those surveyed in this age group also seem to be catching up. Still, 43 percent of all survey participants believe that the office work of the future will take place in the metaverse.
The VR load limit
Scientists from the universities of Coburg, Cambridge and Primorska wanted to know how long-term work in the VR environment affects the physical and psychological condition of knowledge workers. In collaboration with Microsoft Research, they conducted an experiment to test the resilience of employees shifting their work from 2D screens to HMDs.
An advantage of working in VR environments is that the viewing areas are not limited to the size of the monitor, but several magnified screens “float” in a semicircle around the users. Furthermore: Visualizations appear three-dimensional, data is moved with hand movements and meetings take place in virtual spaces, which enhances the sense of physical presence. Only, can our perception tolerate such work at all?
For the study “Quantifying the Effects of Working in VR for One Week”, 16 participants were divided into two groups and sent to the VR environment or to a classic office (desktop environment) for a 40-hour working week. Then they traded for another week. In order not to distort the results and to create a comparable work situation in both environments, the participants in the VR environment were not provided with high-end equipment.
After two weeks of work, the sobering result: work in the Metaverse performs significantly worse in almost all areas and also causes headaches, dizziness and anxiety. “We also found that VR resulted in the worst category of simulator sickness, although the severity decreased slightly over the week,” the scientists write.
How long-term work in VR affects body and mind:
- Tired eyes (48 percent)
- frustration (42 percent)
- higher mental load (35 percent)
- Anxiety (19 percent)
- malaise (11 percent)
What positively changes long-term work in VR:
- Ease of use (36 percent)
- well-being (20 percent)
- Productivity (16 percent)
- Power (14 percent)
Not quite as good as underwater
The study sees itself as the foundation for further research aimed at improving productive work in the Metaverse. At least there were signs that the participants were able to overcome their initial discomfort as the work week progressed. Despite the generally poor experiences, all participants can envision using VR for specific tasks or on an hourly basis in the future.
The task now is to deal with the design of virtual forms of work. The decisive factors here are the commitment of the employees, the design of social exchange in virtual space, respect for mental and physical health and the development of user-friendly technologies at competitive prices. According to Springer authors Zhiyi Liu and Yejie Zheng, it is therefore still too early to create a fully immersive virtual world: “Once technologies mature and content ecology is formed, the grand vision of the metaverse will eventually come true” (page 100 ).