When Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook was changing its name, many of us added a new word to our vocabulary. Metaverse.
But what exactly is the metaverse? And what does it have to do with the future of work?
In the simplest terms, the metaverse is a digital space that brings physical, augmented, and virtual reality together. We’ll join the metaverse as an avatar, interacting with the avatars of our colleagues and friends in a variety of ways – from shopping or attending a concert, to (someday) joining your Monday team meeting.
While the basic idea of the metaverse feels like it’s been popularized overnight, it really hasn’t been. Those of us in the technology industry know that the concept of conferencing in immersive 3D – and using avatars to represent meeting participants – has been around for more than a decade.
What’s changed is that, in 2022, so many icons in the industry are moving the metaverse forward at the same time. That means the technology that was once for a small fringe group is shifting to broader applications built for everyday work, home, and play.
What do experts predict?
In his year-in-review blog post called Gates Notes, Bill Gates predicts that “within the next two or three years…most virtual meetings will move from 2D camera image grids…to the metaverse, a 3D space with digital avatars.”
He describes how “you will eventually use your avatar to meet with people in a virtual space that replicates the feeling of being in an actual room with them,” and that “both Facebook and Microsoft recently unveiled their visions for this, which gave most people their first view of what it will look like.”
Similarly, when announcing Facebook’s rebrand to Meta, Mark Zuckerberg described the metaverse in this way: “We believe the metaverse will be the successor to the mobile internet, we’ll be able to feel present – like we’re right there with people no matter how far apart we actually are.”
Zuckerberg continued: “I think remote work is here to stay. So, we’re going to need better tools to work together. Imagine if you could be at the office without the commute. It would still have that sense of presence, shared physical space, and those chance interactions that make your day. All accessible from anywhere.”
When will we join the metaverse?
While it may sound like a far-off concept, the metaverse is closer than you may think. Consider that:
- Meta has already launched its Horizon Workrooms in beta. This virtual reality space is designed for teams to “connect, collaborate and develop ideas, together – even if you’re across the world.”
Horizon Workrooms (beta) is the VR space for teams to connect, collaborate and develop ideas, together. Meet teammates across the table, even if you’re across the world.
- Microsoft is rolling out Mesh for Teams, enabling presence and shared experiences from anywhere – on any device – through mixed reality applications. The tool promises the ability to “connect with new depth and dimension and engage with eye contact, facial expressions and gestures allowing your personality to shine as technology fades away.”
- Cisco launched Webex Hologram, claiming it to be “the richest collaboration experience yet.” It’s a “real-time, photorealistic holographic interaction that goes beyond video conferencing for a truly immersive experience.”
- Google’s Project Starline (which is more augmented than virtual reality) is a “technology project that combines advances in hardware and software to enable friends, families, and coworkers to feel together, even when they're cities (or countries) apart.”
Deloitte announced its Unlimited Reality offering: An “experience and impact offering for virtual worlds.” Essentially, it’s their set of offerings, which include a studio and innovation space, “to help educate, inspire, accelerate and execute on client goals for the metaverse.”
What are other potential uses for the metaverse?
Because we’re an audiovisual company, we’re of course interested in how the metaverse will change meetings. But there are other applications for this technology that could also have a significant impact.
For example, the ability to create immersive, collaborative simulations in the metaverse could enable us to learn and perfect actions without risking lives. This may include discovering more about situations that might happen – like severe weather or medical procedures – based on immersive models.
Using the metaverse in this way moves the capability from a gadget- or entertainment-based innovation to one that truly improves the human condition.
So, what happens next?
While metaverse technology is accelerating rapidly, its primary barrier to broader adoption is the need for virtual reality (VR) headsets to take part in the experience.
VR headsets cost anywhere from $300 to $600. Facebook/Meta is projected to sell 7 million headsets in 2022. And in a sign of what’s to come, the global augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR) market is forecast to reach $300 billion by 2024 (Statista).
In the meantime, high-innovation fields like product design and engineering are taking the metaverse for a spin. But we predict it will take 12-24 months until the metaverse becomes a mainstream offering that meets the demands for virtual meeting experiences.
As the metaverse evolves, and until full virtual reality meetings become more common, executives and IT leaders will still need meeting solutions that enhance the individual experience and create meeting equality. These are the immediate hybrid collaboration advancements that technology manufacturers and systems integrators are designing and deploying with a great deal of positive response.