It may have been less than six months since Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg announced the social media company’s rebranding as Meta and its pivoting focus to developing what he termed the Metaverse. But the concept – and indeed, the very name – has been around for much longer, with sci-fi author Neal Stephenson first coining the term in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” presenting the idea as an escape from a dystopian future.
The idea has been developing into a reality – or rather, a virtual reality – even since, with tech giants and startups alike mulling the seemingly endless possibilities of a digitally mirrored landscape wherein geography no longer matters and businesses could capitalize on the benefits of virtual platforms the way that gaming communities have long been able to. The past three decades have formed the foundation for a real metaverse: VR headsets are now both affordable and ergonomic, there’s more Internet in more places around the globe, and online gaming has become so popular and widespread that it’s possible to imagine and build advanced technology that enables sophisticated digital avatars; digital assets that can be bought, sold, and traded; and even digital real estate.
Since Zuckerberg’s announcement sent shock waves through the real world, companies have been racing to prepare to snatch up real estate in the virtual world and hire new teams of techies with the particular skills necessary for building and navigating the new landscape. Indeed, hundreds of new jobs are being created specifically for the ability to create and curate companies’ presence in the Metaverse, such as research scientists, world builders, business development managers, niche software engineers, marketing experts, cybersecurity, and experts in cryptocurrency and NFTs, to name but a few.
Facebook itself said it would create 10,000 highly skilled jobs in Europe dedicated to the Metaverse. Citing Europe’s boom in emerging tech talent, Facebook – or should we now say, Meta – described the Metaverse as a “a massive economic engine.”
As envisioned, the Metaverse would be a more immersive and integrated experience than the social media we use today. It opens up a whole new economy, and companies are rushing to get in early on the tech, the talent, and the takeaways of a virtual presence.
“Companies are rushing to get in early on the tech, the talent, and the takeaways of a virtual presence.”
Over a third of respondents in a recent HR Magazine survey said that they’re excited to use the Metaverse to increase visibility, customer connections, and ultimately profit. Big name brands like Nike, Samsung, Verizon, Hulu, Disney, Gucci, and Balenciaga have already thrown their hats into the ring. Nike, for example, filed seven trademarks back in November in order to sell virtual versions of its products in the Metaverse, while Gucci managed to sell a virtual bag on the popular online gaming platform Roblox for even more than it’s worth in its physical form.
Korean firms Samsung and Hyundai have both hosted job fairs using a virtual-reality platform known as Gather Town, where they were able to welcome job seekers from all over the world in real time and present their companies as attractive, innovative places to work. The professional services firm PwC says it has begun experimenting, too, and that the technology represents “huge opportunities.”
Jeremy Dalton, the head of extended reality for PwC UK, told HR Magazine, “For recruitment, we are already using a metaverse platform, Virtual Park, to interview job candidates and offer them the ability to meet our people and find out more about our culture, values, and more opportunities.”
So what does this mean for processes such as hiring, onboarding, reskilling, and upskilling? The answer is almost limitless possibilities once the tech is in place. Virtual job fairs, for instance, allow recruiters to reach a much larger talent pool, and virtual training provides employees with a safe way to train remotely.
For example, Meta – as well as startups and other giants like Microsoft – is already working on developing specific platforms for training employees using virtual reality. The areas that are poised to benefit most from this technology are training workers in soft skills such as communicating and working well with others, detailed training for skilled trades such as plumbing and electrical work, and the healthcare industry, which could help train specialists and surgeons in high-risk procedures.
Meta has already made considerable investments into Horizon Workrooms, which bills itself as a virtual-reality space for teams to connect, collaborate, and create – basically a conference room in the virtual world. Using an Oculus Quest 2 headset (a product of Facebook Technologies), workers can utilize an avatar to meet with, train, and interview potential candidates, new hires, and employees.
“For leaders who are wondering where to start with the Metaverse, the endeavor can feel a bit like riding into the Wild West.”
For leaders who are wondering where to start with the Metaverse, the endeavor can feel a bit like riding into the Wild West. At this early stage, it’s hard to know for sure what the landscape will look like and what regulations will ultimately apply for those looking to set up shop in the virtual world. Companies may be torn between wanting to not miss the boat and adopting more of a wait-and-see approach. While big-name firms can afford to hire a slew of highly skilled talent dedicated to a brand’s virtual migration, this isn’t an immediate option for everyone.
However, it’ll serve smaller firms well, too, to start thinking about what they’d like to get out of the Metaverse and to keep an eye out for ways to use it to connect with their employees and customers. Especially in these post-COVID times when companies and employees are figuring out a balance of remote work and hybrid office structures, having reliable VR platforms for interaction can help ensure less disruption to work processes and company culture as well as open up new hiring opportunities.
Jan-Bart Smits is the International Chair of Stanton Chase.
Stef Oud is Global Practice Leader of Technology for Stanton Chase.
Bill Brewer is Stanton Chase’s Global Leader for Human Resources.