Workplace in 3D: What to know about the latest metaverse buzz
- Posted on June 9, 2023
- Estimated reading time 7 minutes
What’s that, you’re hearing? “The metaverse is dead”?
While AI has been enjoying a key moment in the spotlight, the initial hype around metaverse has subsided. During this time, we’ve discovered more practical ways to use this technology in the workplace. And important technical advances in the metaverse have continually been released, edging us ever closer to realizing its promise.
For example, during its annual developer Build conference a few weeks ago, Microsoft announced the launch (now in private preview) of Microsoft Mesh, a platform that will enable developers to build custom, immersive 3D experiences for the workplace. It will provide the ability to bring remote and hybrid workers together – no matter where they are located - using a PC or VR headset. This week, Apple announced the launch of its own headset. With human-centered design, they showed what happens when an organization packages innovations in hardware, AR and VR into a beautiful, usable and useful device. While not specifically mentioning “metaverse”, the company showcased several of the first horizon use cases that serve as an entry into creating a different type of immersion for the workplace.
With these two announcements in a short time span, we’re seeing several opportunities where spatial computing, a key component of the metaverse, at the workplace is relevant and increasing value. While we’ll continue to see 3D environments used to drive engagement at events and consumer touchpoints (think: holograms of salespeople pitching features, or products to buy), organizations will see the most immediate business value emerge to advance these three key areas:
1. The metaverse will enable more real-time, effective collaboration
Using 3D technology, communication and collaboration solutions can become increasingly immersive, from your teams meeting to your virtual reality headsets. This can fundamentally change how we communicate and collaborate. Such is the capability made possible by the new Microsoft Mesh-powered immersive spaces for Microsoft Teams (also announced for private preview during Build), adding a sense of “co-presence” to everyday meetings.
Consider the average scenario of designing products together with colleagues, enabling multiple workers to see and manipulate that product from anywhere. In a virtual space, experts can inspect, take components in and out, run simulations and see if those modifications work. It also offers the opportunity to observe how moving around parts on a product in virtual reality can show you what other parts might have to move. Or instead of products, think of spaces. In a virtual version of a production line in a factory, you could move equipment around and from so doing, discover that it would require subsequent movement of a fire escape, a junction box or something else.
Does your global team have a tough challenge to address? Consider the creation of a virtual “war room” with sticky notes and whiteboard to discuss and solve problems. Employees, partners and a wider system of contributors can use a 3D space with more depth to collaborate across remote locations in a way that cannot be done locally. Unlike an experience combining in-person, video participants or audio dial-in where it can be challenging to hear from everyone, the collective metaverse experience may provide more equity for all participants. Instead of being close or far, everyone is in the same 3D space.
What if you could do “multiple redos” without incurring more costs? With the metaverse there is the unique opportunity to collaborate and test “impossible/possible scenarios.” For example, when testing an idea or product within the lens of a 3D engine, gravity doesn't even exist. Being able to adjust any component means workers will have the ability to collaborate effectively with different perspectives.
2. As a physical-digital aid, metaverse can improve and accelerate training
Organizations are already using 3D environments for different training scenarios. This creates a new mode for people to connect and train. And it can feel more personalized and low pressure, as it’s an experience only between the environment and the employee. For example, we’re seeing that onboarding via the metaverse can provide a more welcoming and immersive experience for new employees, empowering them to jump in and get going faster in new roles or organizations with more confidence. Providing new employees the opportunity to follow along in a virtual “day in the life” of someone in their role can also jumpstart that orientation experience.
In addition to onboarding, there’s a lot of utility for training field workers to help them complete tasks. These are roles that require a great deal of knowledge combined with physical coordination – often involving heavy machinery, electricity and other elements that can cause harm if the job is not done correctly. By providing people with a "day in the life of" scenario to really experience how a role works and test out how various actions cause possible outcomes, the field worker can build muscle memory and prepare for real-world job tasks without being in harm’s way.
For example, KION Group, the world’s leading supplier of industrial vehicles and supply chain solutions, are engaging service engineers through mixed-reality technology from Microsoft Dynamics 365, remote support and step-by-step holographic technical training.
3. Metaverse experiences and tools can help workers get their jobs done
Once an employee is trained (in or outside of the metaverse), employees are ready to apply that knowledge in their real work. This is where metaverse technologies can manifest as tools themselves to help employees complete work. For example, augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) combined with planagrams can help managers plan their day or oversee their facility or store. A driver of a truck or construction vehicle can consider the virtual user interface they used in metaverse training and leverage a virtual interface on the physical truck to more effectively steer and operate it.
This is already happening. Organizations are leveraging digital twins (or a virtual duplicate of a physical object, process or system) to make predictions and to get work done. For example, energy company SSE Renewables is using an ecological digital twin concept, powered by Microsoft Azure, to collect data and visualize the ecosystem around SSE installations to help meet its sustainability-centered agenda.
Additionally, if a worker needs help to troubleshoot a problem, they can leverage extended reality to connect with an expert remotely while keeping their hands free, help them “see” what they see and talk through the steps necessary to complete the task on the spot. Remote assistance can save time, reduce error and accelerate first time fix rates.
What’s next: empower employees with metaverse in the workplace
Bringing the metaverse to the workplace offers advancements in onboarding, training and getting work done. The technology tools will be built by Microsoft and others in Mesh for Teams. This means that just like collaborating in a shared PowerPoint presentation or SharePoint, participants will be able to collaborate in 3D drawings through tools (e.g., Unity) in Teams.
But shifting to this type of collaboration and learning requires change management and user training, and considerations about safety, security and employee well-being. In fact, new Avanade research reveals* that 87% of organizations are actively educating employees on the social and psychological impacts of avatars and the metaverse on society. Organizations must think about how they build a responsible metaverse experience that will enrich the workplace and mitigate harm. With our privileged access to Microsoft as a top partner, Avanade has spent months co-developing and implementing Mesh. We can bring our extensive experience to organizations that are preparing now for the future of work.
Curious to learn more about how the metaverse will help your workplace? Contact us for a metaverse workshop.
*Avanade and McGuire Research, 2023
The Avanade and McGuire Research study surveyed 800 respondents across Australia, Canada, Brazil, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States in March and April 2023. Respondents included primary decision-makers across business (50%) and IT (50%), representing several industries, including industrial manufacturing (12%), financial services (13%), health (13%), life sciences (13%) consumer goods and services (13%), retail (12%), energy and utilities (13%), and government and non-profit (12%).