Awareness around the Metaverse has exploded over the past two years. A survey from Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, with respondents ages 16 to 65, shows awareness grew by 131% between Q3 2021 and Q2 2022.
This monumental change is a signal to enterprise companies that 2023 is their year to get ahead of the curve, develop innovative programs, test their efficacy, and launch new products and solutions.
As the new year approaches, we asked two of Virbela’s co-founders, Alex Howland, Ph.D., and Sheldon Brown, to predict the future of the Metaverse. Here are some of their responses.
For more on how Metaverse growth impacts your business, follow Virbela on LinkedIn.
Alex Howland, Ph.D. is Co-Founder and President of Virbela. As an entrepreneur and organizational psychologist, he focuses on how the Metaverse shapes the future of work. At Virbela, he leads a cross-disciplinary team in the development of collaborative virtual worlds for enterprise companies.
His research and innovations have received financial support from the Graduate Management Admissions Council, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Health, the Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen Foundation, and the American Psychological Association.
Sheldon Brown is Co-Founder and VP of Product at Virbela. He combines computer science and cultural research to evolve Virbela’s design, interactivity, and impact. His interactive artworks have been featured in notable galleries, museums, and public spaces by commission.
Innovation in the Metaverse
Sheldon Brown: For most business cases, the metaverse is still very notional. In 2023, many Metaverse products will launch in an attempt to make imagined use cases real. Some will stick—and some that seem interesting now won’t make it.
That process will be important in building the value of the Metaverse. Our experiences at Virbela focus on the fundamental attributes that are core to facilitating global business collaborations. So we know that working closely with enterprise users will guide our innovation.
Corporate Investment in XR
Alex Howland: In 2023, companies will view the Metaverse as a tool to unlock value. It will become more of a means to an end. We expect to see clear intentions around business value before organizations dive in. For example, the use of Metaverse may replace brick and mortar, but companies will participate in immersive training with A-B tests and cost comparisons that act as proxies for forecasting.
We’ll see more companies with Metaverse teams, backed by departmental budgets. Even in 2022, we have started to see requests for proposals and we expect those requests will increase in sophistication as companies learn more about what they can do.
Sheldon Brown: I don’t see organizations or employees wanting to give up the virtues of remote work and expanded global collaboration, but they do need more effective interactions that align with how humans cope with complexity.
In 2023, leading companies will invest in understanding more about avatars. We know it’s a viable method for working together. We know it ameliorates the stress and cognitive load of remote collaboration. Next, we’ll discover more about the social cues that allow for complex interactions and how that can scale far beyond anything video conferencing accommodates.
Alex Howland: There’s no shortage of naysayers around the Metaverse, and we don’t expect that to change in 2023. We remind everyone that change frequently follows a J-curve; performance in some areas may drop before a sustainable upward spike.
Companies that are positioned to accommodate this curve are likely to start with lower-risk Metaverse programs to build value across teams. Then, as the Metaverse becomes second nature, we’ll see them add complexity.
Sheldon Brown: In Virbela, we use virtual objects that look like buildings, doors, and rooms as metaphors. They’re not really buildings, doors, and rooms. They are just ways to make the Metaverse immediately understandable, so people can organize their activities and interact with their colleagues.
In 2023, companies will customize how they scale without the constraints of the material world. They’ll reallocate business activities to the Metaverse and reorganize teams through a series of simple, rapid adjustments to their virtual headquarters in order to promote growth.
Virtual Staff Management
Alex Howland: In 2022, we saw more companies struggle with hybrid work than they did when they first made the switch in 2020. Looming fears of recession drove some of the confusion.
In 2023, we’ll see some companies respond to their fear or confusion by trying to call staff back to the office. This will present exceptional opportunities for companies that embrace the Metaverse. They will gain advantage over their competitors by attracting and retaining talent that value innovation.
As part of these shifts, we’ll see individual contributor, management, and executive roles change. For instance, we may see the volume of some roles contract as globally distributed teams achieve more across geographies. Meanwhile, more companies will create roles to manage remote work, create communication channels, set new productivity benchmarks, and define culture. The rise of the Chief Remote Officer is an example.
DEI and Accessibility
Alex Howland: Worldwide, companies will work through the challenges of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Many have already realized a more diverse talent pool is much easier in the Metaverse, especially when we look at diversity across origin, geography, experience, lifestyle, and individual characteristics.
On the matter of equity, companies will face issues of access. How can staff access relationships with leadership? How can they access more significant projects and promotional paths? If some staff go into physical offices, are they closer to the action? Virtual management techniques will directly influence these matters, and they may not be bound by the calendar. These will be issues companies face until they have equitable solutions for all.
Additionally, companies will face how economic advantages over time position staff differently. For example, in some geographies, an enterprise may have high-value interests, but internet access may not be the norm for individuals—let alone VR headsets.
These realizations will drive accessibility to the Metaverse for everyone. Companies will prioritize accessibility over fancy hardware like headsets.
Sheldon Brown: In a few years, we will think that VR headsets of today are as relevant to the metaverse as zoetropes were to the development of cinema. Like zoetropes, headsets perceptually hack our nervous system, but in their current form, they are a cumbersome impediment to using the spatial mediation for a broad range of social and cultural activities.
Alex Howland: When we hear the term Metaverse, it’s frequently followed by talk of decentralization. In 2023, collaboration with the masses will drive consumer engagement for brands, but on the business-to-business side, we have a different prediction. Enterprise clients will want even higher walled gardens as they develop a stronger understanding of privacy, security, and compliance. Their collaboration within those walls will be strategic and cultivated rather than organic.
Sheldon Brown: A robust ecosystem of varied social environments is an exciting future for the Metaverse. We have that in the physical world. We move between our environments, emphasizing aspects of ourselves in different ways in different contexts.
In 2023, organizations will develop excitement for all the different ways they can interact. Rather than thinking about a singular “metaverse”, we will see a multi-verse of meta-media environments. I personally want to bring aspects of different experiences together as part of the multitudes that each of us contain. Company leaders will feel the same way—and assemble toolkits that meet both their traditional needs as will as emergent interests for dynamically scalable, globally deployable, hybrid/remote work environments.
Sheldon Brown: In 2023, we hope companies will recognize the value of the Metaverse in reducing climate impact.
The Metaverse accelerates our ability to work as a global community without having to use physical resources to move everyone around to everyplace all of the time. This alone can represent an incredible reduction in transportation resources, both for daily commuting and distant travel to meetings and conferences. While Metaverse platforms require local and cloud computing resources, they’re similar to those already in use in people’s daily work lives.
Additionally, as a platform for communication, the Metaverse allows us to have a better understanding of the implications of climate change. Because its effects are at scales that are beyond what we have contended with when thinking about human activities we need better tools to create a visceral understanding of it. Virtual worlds are a medium that allows us to have a more direct experience with complex systems because of our use of space as a medium of communication.
Sheldon Brown: Governments will have multifaceted relationships with the Metaverse. They already have a long history of investing in VR simulation for training. Some of the fundamental components have become the basis of commercial products, and those are now shifting how legacy simulation systems are being redeveloped.
On policy and regulation fronts, Metaverse leaders will work with regulators to develop information and privacy controls, similar to those developed for the internet and social media. I think we have seen that those have a spotty history of efficacy and timeliness.
With the growth of the Metaverse, I hope we can be more thoughtful about its value proposition, acknowledging that both governments and an emerging Metaverse involve social contracts with terms that need to be understood by everyone involved.
Alex Howland: We recently learned the Japanese government plans to host a series of Metaverse dating opportunities, and I have to admit I wouldn’t have predicted that one.
For more on how the Metaverse will evolve in 2023, follow Virbela on LinkedIn. Feel free to tag us in your own predictions.