Metaverse offices appear to be the future of businesses. However, experts say that these virtual offices might look a lot like video games. These offices might mean a lot more than Slack and Zoom and some offices are already building their workplaces in the metaverse literally. They are logging into digital headquarters with the help of virtual world developers like Teamflow, Gather, and Virbela.
The pandemic has shown that hybrid work is the future. Although it may seem quite complicated currently, several firms think that the solution is the metaverse offices. A majority of the workers do not want to be in-person full-time, irrespective of the COVID-19 pandemic and firms’ will-they-won’t-they office plans.
Some of the major firms like Microsoft and Facebook want to enhance remote and hybrid work by creating continuous, digital spaces, one can log into some type of avatar. That is the new description of the metaverse offices.
For now, it might be quite hard to think about the possibility of a huge crowd of employees congregating in a virtual room and meeting up with the digital forms of their colleagues throughout the day. But, a growing number of people are already doing that. Builders like Gather, Teamflow, and Virbela are helping companies to create metaverse offices.
Who Is Building Metaverse Offices?
Everyone from Big Tech to the new startups seems to be aiming for a piece of the metaverse pie. Microsoft said that it will integrate VR/AR platform Mesh with Teams and suggested futuristic “immersive spaces” within the messaging app. On the other hand, Meta created Horizon Workrooms for meetings with Oculus headsets.
However, some analysts say that it will be unheard of for companies that will make the metaverse offices concept work. Virtual offices are becoming quite popular even before the metaverse goes mainstream. With the mass adoption of remote work already taking place, startups smelled opportunity and some of them earned huge amounts from the big-name investors.
Gather was launched in May 2020 and has already raised $77 million, while Teamflow has raised around $50 million since its January 2021 launch. Virbela is not a startup but has been a virtual world-builder since 2012. It recorded a 260% increase in revenue in Q2 2020.
From this perspective, the firms that are developing metaverse offices can only see an upside movement of their revenue. There will be no more exorbitant real estate charges. The designs are limitless. Teamflow CEO Florent Crivello stated:
“I think the future is bright. The transition to remote is going to be the most important economic transition since the Industrial Revolution.”
Currently, the metaverse does not exist as an embodied, interconnected network. Hence, these companies are pioneering into Web 3.0 to create a virtual world where people can move in as a digital stand-in.
The aesthetics vary from one company to the next. Gather seems like an old-school video game that has small pixelated characters and a well-decorated 2D world. Teamflow has created a modern-looking office that seems like a floating circle of video.
Virbela has a 3D design that lets users navigate via an office campus behind a full-bodied avatar. Teamflow and Gather are accessible via web browsers while Virbela users need to download software although the firm is working on a web-based offering known as Frame.
How Does A Metaverse Office Look Like?
Virtual reality technology is not yet advanced adequately to become the entry point for metaverse offices. Virbela president Alex Howland stated:
“I don’t think there’s an amount of money you can pay me to be in a VR headset 40 hours a week.”
The average person’s reaction to an avatar-based metaverse office is already skeptical. Accessibility is critical since at the moment the thought of using virtual-reality goggles would not appeal to many loyal clients. This realization is what resulted in the launch of Gather. CEO Phillip Wang mentioned:
“I was so convinced of the metaverse and how much impact it would have, ready to buckle down and work on it for five, seven years and wait for VR to get better. That’s when the pandemic hit and there was a sense of, ‘Oh, we don’t need to wait that long. People need something urgently today.’”
Daily office work is not the only use case for the metaverse. Gather has hosted college reunions, birthday parties, and notable events like Forbes 30 Under 30 conferences. Virbela hosted the 2021 AfroTech conference and a 2020 holiday dance party. At that party, the avatars lost their minds to Toto’s “Africa.”
Teamflow hosts virtual events. However, its primary focus is developing the best day-to-day work environment possible. The platform’s cardinal rules are persistence, spatiality, and apps. Crivello said that spatiality is when one is heard by only the people around them. That is the same way that volume works in the real world.
In the case of persistence, everything that one is working on remains intact when they close and reopen Teamflow. Apps are the components and integrations built into Teamflow, including Google Docs, Figma, and Trello. Crivello says that Teamflow is a viable solution to tool Fatigue. Data indicates that the average client uses Teamflow at least 30 hours a week which prompted the team to redesign their mobile app in early November.
“We didn’t expect people to spend that much time in the product, obviously. It just became a place where they live.”
How Will Many Virtual Offices Coexist In the Same Metaverse?
Metaverse offices are ripe for many faux pas. Users may sometimes click on a faraway destination or get lost in the space. Controlling avatars will be quite challenging initially and these offices might prove challenging for those who are coming to work there with no prior experience.
eXp Realty is a real estate brokerage that has been working virtually since 2009. It went virtual when founder Glenn Sanford wanted to cut costs after the housing market crumbled. It used several platforms before settling on Virbela in 2016. The service was quite smooth such that the brokerage’s parent company acquired Virbela in 2018.
Jason Gesing, eXp Realty CEO, stated:
“The first couple of visits, it’s uncomfortable. You might bump into a couple of walls, you might not know how to click on the seat and sit down.”
However, the company’s employees adapted to the new working environment quickly. Virbela’s president, Howland, even compared the process to learning how to read. You first see characters on a page and then later you focus on the meaning after learning how to read. Howland added:
“We want the virtual world to kind of go away, just like that.”
How will the social norms translate in the metaverse offices? Will an avatar wander into another office unannounced or disrupt a meeting in other metaverse offices? A lot will depend on the particular company’s policies. Some of the companies that are already working virtually encourage drop-ins in case people’s office doors are open.
Pipo Saúde, a Brazilian health care startup, lets employees work at a shared desk in Gather enabling colleagues to interact without the emotional drain of sitting silently on a video call. Surveillance is another valid worry among employees since firms already track them using devices and software. That working environment leaves workers in a continuous state of stress.
When all employees are working from one digital space, tracking becomes easy. Metaverse offices are meant to discourage that practice by employers can do it anyway. Workers need to come in and go out as they please to enhance their productivity. Howland stated:
“We see people using [Virbela] at all different levels. It’s not a monitoring tool. At least, that’s not its intention.”
Ready adoption and customization are important for the metaverse offices since they will change how people work in the future. Developers consult with clients on the preferences and best designs before setting up virtual workplaces. People can then change the office space to suit their needs for optimal productivity.
Gather partners with other firms that can design a space for users. Wang said:
“You have a world where people are really owning the experiences they create and what they have in this universe.”
Working On Your Computer At Your Virtual Desk
Some versions of the metaverse offices support brief explorations like Shopify’s Animal Crossing-Esque meeting and gaming site, Shopify Party. But when a firm aims to commit to a virtual space, it operates when the employees go there full-time. But shifting all operations to the virtual world can be scary for companies.
Manoela Mitchell, Pipo Saúde co-founder and CEO, stated:
“A lot of people said, ‘I don’t want to be in Gather, I want to be disconnected, I want to be totally focused.’”
But with time everything changed as people grew familiar with the work environment. Employees can socialize and reduce the times of meetings. Mitchell added:
“We want one-minute alignments to be one-minute alignments, not 50-minute calendar events. We decided to do it because we want people to have spontaneous conversations. And people love it.”
Many people wonder why they would need to go to their physical offices only to log into the metaverse offices. Michael Pryor, Trello co-founder, and metaverse enthusiast says that when everyone meets in the virtual offices, it becomes a game-changer. He explained:
“Being together and working on our things is very valuable and provides that opportunity for us to have random conversations with people.”
Pryor compared the creativity that might come with the metaverse offices to past visions of the dishwashers. He commented:
“When they predicted dishwashers, they would describe them as robots, like you see on the Jetsons. And you’re like, OK, yeah, that didn’t happen. But we have dishwashers. They just don’t look like that.”
Someday, we might all work in these metaverse offices that support tangible and immersive connections with colleagues from around the world.