Working from home has become a necessary normal in the past two years, one that’s led to rapid advancements in technology that supports remote collaboration—such as video conferencing, messaging apps for business, and VPN services. Companies are now exploring the benefits of virtual work environments, or workplaces in the metaverse.
The concept of the metaverse workplace is no longer considered a far-off future but an inevitable change that may help to mitigate some of the challenges that remote working has brought to the surface, particularly when it comes to workplace culture and collaboration.
Yet, for all the positives offered by a metaverse workplace, this virtual work environment may only intensify certain negatives of remote work. Employers will have to tread carefully when introducing a metaverse work environment to their employees, who might resist adapting to a new platform.
There are also implications for employee privacy, a topic we also explored in a previous survey relating to the trend of working from home.
To better understand the expectations and sentiments around a potential metaverse workspace, ExpressVPN surveyed 1,500 employees and 1,500 employers in the United States. Together, this group provides a glimpse of how companies and employees see themselves working in the metaverse.
Shift from remote work to virtual workspaces
Employer optimism vs. employee skepticism
In the metaverse, your employer is everywhere
Large companies may get more pushback
Gen Z is most likely to embrace the metaverse workplace
Which tech giant is most trusted to lead the metaverse work revolution?
- Familiarity with the metaverse: 69% of employers say they are very familiar with the metaverse, compared with only 42% of employees. (Go to this section.)
- Who’s interested? 77% of employers expressed an interest in immersive work environments like the metaverse, compared with only 57% of employees. (Go to this section.)
- Data collection: 63% of employees are concerned about their employer collecting their data in the metaverse. (Go to this section.)
- Company size matters: Employees at larger companies (500+) and the more tenured workforce (Millennials, Gen X, Boomers) express the most concern about employer surveillance and online privacy in the metaverse. (Go to this section.)
- Top surveillance concerns: The top concerns of employees related to workplace surveillance are the tracking of their real-time location (51%) and real-time screen monitoring (50%). (Go to this section.)
- Most trusted tech giant: 61% of workers trust Microsoft with their concerns regarding a workplace in the metaverse, with Meta the least trusted company (36%). (Go to this section.)
Shift from remote work to virtual workspaces
As of 2022, most Americans are working either remotely or in a hybrid arrangement (in-office and remote). Compared with previous research, this number has seen a decline, yet only 40% of the workforce currently reports solely working in an in-office environment.
Further, many employers intend to shift toward a hybrid environment in the future, meaning even fewer in-office work environments in years to come.
With hybrid and remote work environments come a heavy reliance on technology to keep workers productive and connected to their places of employment. Both workers and employers agree that technological advancements have increased productivity and fostered connections with co-workers. Employees and employers also say video conferencing fosters connection at their workplace the most of any technology.
Which communication method makes you feel most connected and engaged with your co-workers?
Looking to future technological advancements, both employees and employers expressed interest in immersive work experiences, though there was significantly more interest from employers. Employers were also nearly twice as likely to say they were very familiar with the metaverse compared with employees.
Optimism from employers, skepticism from employees
Employers are much more likely to express excitement, curiosity, and optimism when it comes to the prospect of a metaverse workplace, whereas employees tend to express anxiousness and suspicion about it.
How do you feel about the metaverse?
This difference in enthusiasm can also be seen when employees and employers were asked about the positive impacts of the metaverse on the workplace. Both employees and employers were most likely to say the metaverse would have a positive impact on creativity, yet again employers seem to show more enthusiasm than employees when it comes to the potential positive impacts of the metaverse.
Which of the following do you think the metaverse will have a positive impact on?
Reflecting the growing desire to skip the commute, employees say the increased ability to work from home would be the biggest perk of working in the metaverse.
Why are you interested in working in the metaverse?
% of employees surveyed who chose each answer as a reason
In the metaverse workplace, your employer is everywhere
Employee monitoring software has become a popular way for employers to keep an eye on their employees during the rise of work-from-home, and the metaverse will only increase the potential for surveillance activities.
The top concerns of employees related to workplace surveillance are the tracking of their real-time location and real-time screen monitoring. Employers are most likely to be interested in recording workplace meetings in the metaverse, time tracking and, in line with employees’ fears, tracking real-time location and screen monitoring.
Online surveillance in the workplace
Large companies may see more employee pushback on shifts to the metaverse
Stark differences between large, mid-sized, and small companies may result in smaller to mid-sized companies experiencing better workforce morale when transitioning to the metaverse.
Employers from companies with over 500 workers are most interested in an immersive work environment, as compared with companies with fewer than 500 employees. Employees from large companies, on the other hand, are least likely to say they’d be interested in working in the metaverse.
Interest in immersive work environments, from employees
Interest in immersive work environments, from employers
Employees at larger companies might have good reason to be concerned, as companies with over 500 employees are most likely to say they currently surveil their workers and that they’ll do so in the metaverse. Unfortunately, employees working at these companies are also most likely to be worried about digital security and employee surveillance.
We asked employers: Are you currently surveilling your employees?
We asked employees: What concerns do you have about the metaverse?
Generation Z is most likely to embrace the metaverse as a workplace
Companies might want to enlist Gen Z—the youngest generation in the workforce—to help sell employees on the metaverse. This generation is the most eager to enter a metaverse workplace, saying they’re curious, excited, and optimistic about it. Gen Z respondent are also most likely to say the metaverse will have a positive impact on work performance and productivity.
How do different generations feel about the metaverse?
How to different generations think the metaverse will positively impact work?
Generation Z was also least likely to be concerned about employer surveillance, digital privacy, and security in the metaverse.
Which of the following concerns, if any, do you have about working in the Metaverse?
Meanwhile, Baby Boomers are most likely to find easier collaboration with co-workers and work-from-home flexibility as areas that interest them about the metaverse.
What interests you about working in the metaverse?
Virtual spaces can be highly assistive to those with mobility issues. This may be why one in three Baby Boomers said their interest in the metaverse is tied to removing barriers to employment due to disability and/or physical limitations.
As for when workers think they’ll be working in a metaverse environment, Gen Z is most likely to see this occurring sometime within the next two years, with older generations expecting it to happen later down the line.
When do you foresee working in a metaverse environment?
Which tech giant is the most trusted to lead the metaverse workplace revolution?
With a few years of bad press under its belt, Meta (formerly Facebook) may not have the stronghold it hopes to have on the future of virtual, immersive work environments. Despite its name, Meta is the least trusted company when it comes to the metaverse workplace as compared with other big players.
That said, there is still a lack of familiarity with companies pioneering virtual environments and workspaces: 60% of workers say they’re not familiar with Magic Leap, and 42% said the same about Nvidia. This indicates the need for greater education from companies who are leading the move into the metaverse workplace.
Employers need to pay close attention to how surveillance activities in virtual workspaces could impact the adoption of the metaverse, as well as morale, retention, and recruitment.
While employee monitoring may provide peace of mind to employers who are overseeing a remote workforce, the reality is that surveilling employees could be detrimental when it comes to their willingness to adopt a metaverse workplace. Morale could also drop due to feelings of mistrust from employers.
Further, many employees will consider surveillance in their decision for or against working at a particular company. A metaverse workplace could put employers at a disadvantage when it comes to both retention and hiring in today’s competitive job market.
“Given the reluctance of many workers to accept further surveillance in the workplace, employers should tread carefully when planning to implement further monitoring activities in virtual workspaces and consider whether they’re worth the potential loss of trust and satisfaction among their employees,” says Harold Li, Vice President of ExpressVPN.
Employers seeking to prepare their employees for a metaverse workplace should consider further education about its benefits, use cases, and potential implications for day-to-day work life.
While employees were interested in the metaverse and curious about the potential benefits it offers for remote work, the perceived downsides seem to outweigh the upsides at this point. Among employees, there is still much to learn about the possible benefits and how they measure up against their apprehensions.
To create more enthusiasm about the new technology, employers should consider educating employees about how companies like Microsoft, Google, Nvidia, and others are enabling virtual work experiences and what a day could look like in a future metaverse work environment.
Further, it’s important that employers are transparent about what these tools mean when it comes to monitoring of online activity. “In addition to the concerns about surveillance, there’s a moral obligation for employers when it comes to informing their team members about what is being tracked and monitored,” says Li. “Many employers make further missteps in not divulging this information to employees, which will inevitably lead to discontent among employees should they find out at a later time.”
History of surveillance and past loss of trust will play a significant role in adoption of the metaverse.
Companies like Meta (formerly Facebook) have a long way to go when it comes to regaining trust, which will inevitably weigh into consumer willingness to adopt the new technology. Unfortunately for Meta, this will likely put them at a disadvantage when compared with other companies pioneering virtual environments.
Larger companies also appear to have work to do when it comes to educating their employees on the potential benefits of the metaverse workplace, given employees at larger companies were more wary of its implications on privacy than those at smaller companies.
“It’s understandable that people are looking critically at the metaverse, given past experiences with the way companies use new technologies,” says Li. “It’s all the more reason that companies with a complex history need to be careful about how they proceed. A few missteps could disastrously impact the onboarding of virtual workspaces and ultimately, undermine its benefits.”
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