What is the metaverse? Its impact on the office of the future

Business trips, meetings, going to the office. Reality has changed. Even more so with the arrival of the pandemic. For months, we have been at home, performing these tasks behind the screen. Now, with the return to the office, companies are opting for a hybrid model, between teleworking and face-to-face attendance. If there is one thing we have learned, it is that flexible working is a highly sought-after commodity.

How has the 'return to normality' in the world of work been managed? Some have opted for staggered incorporation according to rank, and others for a combination of attendance and teleworking on a daily basis. However, some companies have harnessed the potential of new technologies, such as augmented reality and the Internet of Things (IoT), to manage this return.

The announcement of the launch of the Metaverse by Facebook (now Meta) has turned the tables. Through the use of virtual and augmented reality, users will be able to have an immersive experience in the digital world. How will this technology affect the management and use of the offices of the future?

What is the metaverse?

Today, there are already applications that, without being the immersive, multi-sensory metaverse that Meta is looking for, are close to it. We can attend a virtual congress or project exhibitions in a company, and hold conversations. Many companies are already using augmented reality to manage their workplaces. But Meta, with its metaverse, aims to go one step further. It is a digital twin, which simulates what happens in the physical world in real time.

In the workplace, for example, companies that are committed to the metaverse aim to create a virtual representation of your office, where you can go to work and have meetings with other people through avatars. But it goes beyond communication. It seeks interaction and immersion in a world that doesn't pause, like video games. When you exit and re-enter, things will have changed.

With the metaverse, the aim is to achieve a greater sense of presence than we have today on the Internet. Users have to be able to move and interact in a virtual world with the psychological perception that they are actually in that world. Through virtual and augmented reality, users are immersed and respond physically and mentally in a similar way as they would in the real world.

Augmented reality and the metaverse

What is the gateway to the metaverse? The new digital scenario relies on augmented reality as a starting point. This technology makes it possible to add virtual information to the real world. Its advantage: you only need a mobile phone.

In offices, for example, this technology is already being used to manage spaces. Everything that can be labelled can be managed through augmented reality. Do you want to find a free parking space, reserve a room, or a space in your office canteen? All you need is your phone to read a sticker. This way you get information in real time.

Beyond augmented reality, the metaverse is based on interoperability, the ability to share data and facilitate the exchange of information and knowledge through blockchain technology and NFTs. It is a nexus between the real world and the digital world which, based on the idea of web 3.0 and the possibility of owning digital assets, removes the barriers between the two worlds.

The metaverse and offices

The pandemic changed traditional office work to a hybrid model, between face-to-face and remote. With the advent of the metaverse, what innovations can we expect in the workplace? Although uncertain, it seems that the creation of virtual experiences could break down the divide between office and remote work, especially through virtual and augmented reality technologies.

It is not about breaking away from the physical, but about creating workspaces that bring together both types of interactions. Creating an immersive experience for remote and office workers could improve employee satisfaction, increase productivity and level the playing field, regardless of where they work from.

While much metaverse potential remains to be unlocked, companies can already use some of its propositions:

Present: augmented reality in offices

Businesses can analyse data from connected environments through the Internet of Things (IoT) to evaluate outcomes and leverage AI to improve and automate tasks. They can also make use of augmented reality for areas such as predictive maintenance. The metaverse can identify when a component is likely to fail, including optimising energy use and reducing downtime.

Companies are also applying augmented reality to:

  • Train employees with simulations
  • Improve repair processes
  • Visualise video content or video calls while working

Future: real, virtual and augmented presence

If interaction in the metaverse is reduced to the mere exchange of words, without facial or body expressions, it is difficult to connect. This is also the case if we do not have shared visual or textual supports. So what are the next steps for the metaverse in the workplace?

  • Avatars that reproduce facial and body expressions, through the use of devices that read our lips and eye area. Even, going a step further, tools that allow full-body tracking. Companies, such as Microsoft, are already working on incorporating avatars, even holograms, into their video call platforms.
  • For hybrid (physical and virtual) collaboration to work, blackboards cannot only be virtual, they must be shared. In other words, connected to the digital blackboards in the physical offices.
  • With regard to presentations, for the moment, screen sharing is possible in the metaverse, but how can we replicate the physical experience in the virtual world in a more satisfactory way?

Work in 2022

The metaverse is still in its early stages, but it has already been reflected in the workplaces. There is still a lot of untapped potential, but companies can already start experimenting. Companies that were already betting on augmented reality before the metaverse boom may wonder how to bring their services into the virtual environment. After all, as disruptive as this technology is, the metaverse is a digital twin.

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