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Exploring the metaverse: Making sense of the Unknown

The HR World

12 April 2022

In his first column on the future of work for The HR World, PA's Lloyd Dean explores the latest technological buzz - the metaverse.

This article was first published on The HR World

It is ‘one of those’ words that most of us will have heard but very few people living in the real world understand what it is or what it means for humanity’s progression.

Some folk can remember hearing about the world wide web for the first time, email addresses and a strange platform called Facebook (Dare I say Bebo as well). While all of these are now part of our daily lives – can we say the same will become true about the metaverse?

And, if so, what does it mean for HR?

If you’ve heard of it at all, it is probably linked to the CEO at Meta (nee Facebook), Microsoft and a host of other organisations. Each of these companies is in fierce competition to articulate the meaning of the metaverse.

But, while the collective excitement reveals its potential, it also feels like a group of techies in the 1960s describing the potential of the internet by getting excited about instant messaging.

To avoid this, the best way I can find to explore it for you here is with an example.

Netflix recently released a documentary called Downfall: The Case Against Boeing. It follows the journey of the company’s 737 MAX aircraft and looks at the decisions made by Boeing executives which allegedly reduced training hours for pilots on new features and design of the plane.

The documentary claims this was a cost-cutting exercise to help ship the aircraft out as quickly as possible – with tragic consequences.

While the documentary outlines a compelling case, I was also struck on how modern technologies such as virtual reality can and should be solving such dilemmas.

In the case of aviation training, we could imagine the experience of a current flight simulator replicated in a virtual world with high-cost and heavy machinery replaced with easy to access technology.

Not only can pilots engage with training exercises, but they can also familiarise themselves with everything within the aircraft. In many ways, this world already exists through the medium of virtual reality, but the metaverse provides an additional layer that enriches the experience.

For me, part of what will separate virtual reality from the metaverse in this situation is the ability to connect in real time to others in the same environment and interact in a non-restricted manner.

In the example above, imagine the power of having access to global experts and connecting on precise technical points that were otherwise saved for a singular classroom experience.

Better yet, imagine an update to internal flight software that can become immediately accessible to any pilot with the headset where they can touch and feel a new piece of equipment rather than only reading a textbook.

And while this example references aviation, the application is the same in any highly regulated and safety conscious industry.

The metaverse will provide an opportunity to ride with the pilots live – exiting news for BigJet TV YouTube subscribers – as well as connecting with travellers in a completely new and unique way when in flight, from live concerts to group mindfulness sessions as a few examples.

In general, however, the elements used in this example will change. In fact, I’m willing to bet that anyone who tells you exactly what the metaverse will be in the next 12-24 months will be wrong.

There will also be many who view the metaverse as hype. But, as someone who’s delivered return on investment on virtual reality projects and followed this technology for nearly a decade, I’m here to say the haters are wrong.

For HR, as ever, the key thing here is to not try and be experts overnight. It is also important to ensure HR teams have the correct support and framework to translate the exploratory activities around the metaverse. This discovery work could include:

  • Allocating a small team and asking them to explore and become comfortable with Virtual Reality (better yet, buy them a few headsets so they can become familiar with the environment)
  • Coming up with use cases or scenarios where the Metaverse could solve a business problem or aid a learning need – a proof of concept, before assessing wider needs
  • Start to discover the art of possible and charge the team with keeping up to date with changes over the come years.

All this needs to be decided before thinking about purchasing large volumes of headsets or discussing the advantages of one haptic glove over the other.

But, despite dipping our toes into the unknown, the metaverse cannot yet predict the future so leaders will win by playing the long game – being curious in exploring the metaverse and its true use in the months and years to come.

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