Canada (Laval University) Get ready for the metaverse: implications for business and the future of work

In recent months, we have seen a bombardment of news about the so-called “metaverse.” In October 2021, Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, announced that he intends, in just 5 years, to turn his social networking giant into a metaverse organization, starting by changing the name of his company to Meta. Some say that the metaverse is to the Internet as modern smartphones are to the analogue cell phones of the 1980s. In the economic context, a report by Bloomberg Intelligence (Bloomberg, 2021) points to an economic expectation of $800 billion in metaverse spending as investments and revenue, by the middle of this decade. However, for most people, the metaverse is still a vague term, and even vaguer is the understanding of the impacts that the new technologies associated with the metaverse will cause in people’s lives and in organizations. Among its different effects, the development of the metaverse could change the nature of work in many ways. Therefore, research is needed to investigate the impacts that this new digital reality.

The term metaverse was first used by writer Neal Stephenson in 1992 in the science fiction book Snow Crash (Hughes, 2022; Knox, 2022). A year later, a company named The Metaverse appeared with a virtual reality system in which multiple users could connect at the same time. Later, other companies with similar initiatives emerged, such as OZ Virtual, Linden Lab, Somnium Space, and Second Life, the latter being the most famous initiative.

The metaverse can be defined as the integration of physical, augmented, and virtual realities (Gadalla et al., 2013; Türk et al., 2022). It is a virtual world, an “alternate reality,” that attempts to replicate the physical world through digital devices. Companies that invest in the metaverse develop technology platforms that use virtual and augmented reality, creating environments in which the individual can interact with avatars of other people or avatars controlled by artificial intelligence. Metaverse platforms will enable gaming, socializing, working, shopping, and so on, creating an immersive and sensory experience for its users through the use of tactile sensor technologies (Türk et al., 2022).

Besides Meta’s Oculus technology, many companies have started to develop metaverse technologies and platforms. Microsoft has Mesh (Microsoft Mesh, n.d.), which allows meetings to be held with holograms and shared experiences through mixed-reality applications. In the digital entertainment market, Sony’s PlayStation has developed virtual reality helmets for use in its consoles and Epic Games has developed immersive video games. In the e-commerce environment, Alibaba is developing Ali Metaverse, which will provide an immersive experience in the purchasing process.

As the metaverse continues to grow, entities in the physical world, such as cities and companies will establish virtual versions of themselves in the metaverse. Existing cities and companies can choose to participate in the metaverse by developing metaverse versions of themselves, called megacities and metal enterprises. The involvement of cities and enterprises within the metaverse can lead to the creation of metaverse economies, or MENA economies (Türk et al., 2022; Wang et al., 2022). These virtual versions could, for example, be used to apply computational experiments to analyze, evaluate, and optimize decision-making processes, skills, and resources required for successful real-world execution (Wang et al., 2022). With these experiments, projects could be developed in the shortest possible time, with the lowest cost and energy. This new reality could have great impacts on organizations and work relations (Knox, 2022; Türk et al., 2022). For example, land, objects and companies are created and traded in the metaverse, without regional or legal boundaries. People in the real world have been hired to work in these virtual companies, whose hiring rules are not based on any legal reference, since the servers of the metaverse can be anywhere in the world. Thus, the rules of production and work in this virtual world are likely to be based on constructs that are yet to be developed and that will possibly imply new rules and laws (Knox, 2022; Türk et al., 2022).

Researchers have started to examine some of the challenges and opportunities of the metaverse. They have studied virtual worlds and their applications in education (Grimes, G. and Bartolacci, M., 2010; Hsiao-Cheng Han, 2011). In this context, Second Life has been considered the new frontier for pedagogy and it has been suggested that a university without its metaverse presence would be like a company without a web page (Knox, 2022). Investigations into the metaverse have also been related to healthcare (Aebersold, M. et al., 2012; Schaffer MA et al., 2016), to organizations (Wyld, D. C., 2010; Huang, Y.-C. et al. (2013), and to real estate market territory expansion (Knox, 2022).

The mass adoption of metaverse technology could have a strong impact on academic research. The metaverse is complex and raises concerns, such as data privacy and security, the physical and psychological effects of the large-scale use of this technology, and the possible vices that its use could generate. These will require substantial investigation. For example, how will the metaverse impact labour and employment in different types of industries, such as IT, food, metalworking or aerospace? What will be the influence of metaverse technologies on the construction of knowledge and on human cognitive development? How will teams (e.g., workers, professionals, researchers) from different parts of the world interact and advance their objectives in a more interactive and dynamic way?

Besides these questions, from a technical perspective, there will be a need to examine the integration of the metaverse’s enabling technologies, such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, blockchain, and big data (Rehm et al., 2015; Türk et al., 2022). What impacts might the integration of these technologies have on businesses, industries, and jobs? What will be the civil and social responsibility of the actions that companies and individuals take in the virtual world and what will be their effects in the real world? How can this kind of accountability be created if events in the virtual world have no territorial boundaries and are not subject to international law? What is the need for adjustments in legal and social frameworks, with the construction of a new ethical and relational paradigm?

As practitioners and academics concerned about the development and application of technologies, we certainly have a lot of work ahead of us. Researchers working with business professionals and practitioners will need to analyze the impacts of the metaverse on society, organizations, and work (Hughes, 2022), not only to understand the effects after they have occurred but to try to anticipate, shape and predict how the metaverse will evolve, as well as the impacts it will have on the lives of people and organizations.