If you haven't seen any business news in the last week, Facebook changed its name to Meta.
For clarity, we’re talking about Facebook the group here, not the app. Facebook owns Instagram and WhatsApp too - it’s the holding company that changed its name.
But whilst it might seem like a conveniently timed rebrand to shake off bad press, it’s actually much more. It’s a huge statement of intent about the direction of travel for Facebook and the future of the internet.
For HR professionals this could have some significant implications. It could also indicate some of the challenges we're likely to face.
Meta is a shortening of “metaverse” - it’s where many people believe the internet is heading next. An immersive virtual reality, all-encompassing environment. Mark Zuckerberg is ploughing huge amounts of cash into R&D of this VR landscape. When it comes to fruition, it’ll likely change the way we live and work.
In a recent interview Zuckerberg stated: “People think of us as a social media company. But the way we think about ourselves is that we’re a technology company that builds technology to help people connect with each other.”
So here’s why as HR professionals we should be sitting up and paying attention...
This technology will change the way we work. The debate of how to make hybrid and remote working will fade into the background. At onboarding, we’ll be asking employees to link their VR headsets to our company. Daily stand-ups could be with virtual colleagues in a virtual office. Face-to-face meetings could be as a hologram in the boardroom rather than attend in person.
Trust and Engagement
Huge trust and engagement issues could arise. How do you create a team environment with a group of avatars? What if the body language cues that we naturally use to form bonds aren’t there? What if the person behind the avatar is nothing like the avatar itself, does that matter? It’s common in the gaming world for avatars to not represent the gender of the player. But does this matter in a work environment? It’s like a 'cameras-off' video x 10.
We know technology can be vulnerable to hacks. Could someone replicate or take over the avatar and identity of someone else and act on their behalf? The CEO maybe? How would we know that the person turning up in the virtual workplace was the same “person” every day? HR policies definitely don’t cover such a scenario at the moment!
It’s likely that in this virtual world, trust and engagement will be much harder to build and maintain.
The isolation of home working will open a lot of wellbeing and mental health challenges. Loneliness will quickly become a huge concern in the virtual world, the workplace and in wider society. But it also brings to mind stories like this one, where a girl became addicted to her virtual world and stopped living a full life in the real world. Are businesses, leaders and HR well equipped to support employees in this type of working environment?
Digital Poverty & Exclusion
Consider the current extent of digital poverty. An estimated million households in the UK have no internet connection. Layer on expensive and hard to access additional tech, such as VR headsets, and that gap widens. It could present huge additional social mobility challenges and make knowledge work the domain of only those who can afford the cost of entry. It’s likely that this will make lack of diversity in the workplace much more acute.
It also opens up a potential generational divide. Digital and tech natives, who will have grown up with this tech in their schooling and home lives, versus those playing catch up and still cursing the presence of Zoom in our every-day lives. It’s likely to be age that is the defining factor here. What does that do for a cohesive, engaged workforce? How does it impact career paths in an organisation?
It may not all be grim when it comes to inclusion. It may be a great leveller for disability inclusion, particularly physical disabilities. A virtual workplace will remove a huge barrier for inclusion in a traditional workplace. The original concept of the Metaverse came from a book, where the main character was significantly disabled. He lived his life in a virtual world where that didn’t matter - this could become reality.
If avatars were all blue and gender-neutral, would that be desirable? Does it level the playing field for discrimination or does it wipe out everything that makes us unique and special as individuals?
Finally, this new virtual world is likely to unlock whole new requirements for talent. Jobs that haven’t been invented yet, never mind about having healthy talent pipelines to fill them! How do we prepare to find the best talent, for roles and technology that doesn’t yet exist? As an example, are you struggling to find Data Scientists? We weren’t ready for that role either and we still haven’t caught up!
One thing is for sure; this type of technology is likely to exacerbate current HR challenges. Talent attraction, employee engagement, employee wellbeing, inclusion and diversity are all hot topics. They aren't going away, and HR professionals are having to do more to make a better working environment for employees. Whilst this technology isn’t imminent, once it arrives, it’s likely to make the ripples bigger.
Watch, wait and prepare!
Find out more about employee engagement & our employee feedback platform here: www.tenspace.co.uk