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Health and wellbeing considerations for HR managers as the metaverse draws closer to reality

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Health and wellbeing considerations for HR managers as the metaverse draws closer to reality

Meet the metaverse

Regarded by many as the future of the internet, the metaverse is still in its infancy but the hi-tech concept looks set to revolutionise the way we work.

Through avatars, users of this advanced form of virtual reality will be able to interact with a computer-generated environment – along with other users.

Current schools of thought suggest that, rather than using a computer, migrants to the metaverse will use a headset to access a virtual world, which will connect them to unlimited digital environments.

It may be more than a decade from fruition – and it may sound like The Matrix made real, or a gamer’s fantasy – but we can expect the metaverse to have a huge impact on the future workplace.

Consequently, it behoves HR managers to understand how the metaverse could be harnessed and used to benefit the health and wellbeing of employees.

As the last two years have shown, employees have learned to adapt to remote working. Figures from a recent YouGov survey(1) revealed that 56 per cent of respondents said they would now prefer to work from home at least some of the time. There has been a similar reaction internationally, from countries such as the USA, Japan and Australia.

It is highly likely, therefore, that the future will see employers choosing remote working practices for their employees over the traditional onsite work.

Enter stage right, the metaverse.

The new technology is expected to make the working from home (WFH) experience more practical, more effective and more pleasurable.

Already, WFH has demonstrated health and wellbeing gains for employees, from less exposure to illnesses to improved work/life balance.

Avoiding the ‘home alone’ syndrome

Humans are not designed to be solitary beings. To thrive they require contact with others, communication and mental stimulation.

While video conferencing may help fulfil the practical, work-related needs of remote workers, the spontaneous communication opportunities that the physical workplace offers is lost. The opportunity to have casual conversations and share in ‘water-cooler’ moments encourages engagement, which has proven mental health benefits.

The virtual workplace of the metaverse allows for such encounters. Through their avatars, employees will be able to have those corridor conversations, share their opinions on the latest news events or discuss their social lives.

A workplace that has a culture of fun is a workplace that employees enjoy being in – be it virtually or physically – and this will invariably translate to a sense of wellbeing.

Ensuring team spirit continues

Working remotely can induce feelings of anxiety and frustration for employees engaged in collaborative projects. The risks of miscommunications and misunderstandings are heightened when colleagues are not physically ‘there’ to explain and demonstrate their ideas and solutions.

The metaverse will help remove such concerns by providing a real-time shared workspace where camaraderie is still able to exist and where responses are not delayed. Furthermore, the immersive augmented reality available in the metaverse will allow for greater creativity, An architectural team, for example, will be able to ‘walk’ around, inspect and discuss 3D, computer-generated designs.

Risks and dangers

The sense of inclusion and connectivity that the metaverse can bring are obvious positives, but there’s a risk the opposite may also occur.

Because the metaverse is still embryonic its impact cannot yet be properly assessed, but the effect of VR use may signpost possible health and wellbeing outcomes.

In some cases, users have over-engaged with VR resulting in detachment from reality and feelings of isolation.

Psychologically, there is a danger that inhabitants of the metaverse could end up living a ‘tunnel vision’ existence. Employees’ typical working hours coincide with periods when their minds are most alert. Spending those hours ‘living’ in a virtual world may have ramifications when employees re-enter the real world, with all its imperfections.

VR can also discourage physical activity, resulting in unhealthy sedentary lifestyles.

To address these issues, HR managers will need to ensure employees have regular metaverse breaks.

Such breaks are more easily monitored when employees are in the workplace, but less so when they are working from home. Consequently, breaks should be formalised as a key part of corporate metaverse polices. We may even see the emergence of tachograph- style technology to regulate employees’ metaverse time.

With the number of employees WFH expected to increase as the metaverse becomes established, it follows that HR practitioners will need to schedule more check-ins and catch-ups with employees.

This will enable early indications of mental health issues to be more easily addressed, while good working practices and health and safety advice will be more easily enforced.

Preparing for the unknown

Technological advances are rarely paused or reversed and the assumption by many is that the metaverse will happen.

Should it meet – or exceed – expectations, it will be a massive evolutionary step in the world of work.

The responsibilities facing employers will be huge and it is essential that HR departments focus on how it can be best used to serve the health and wellbeing needs of employees.

For those businesses that are already starting to see the potential of metaverse adoption, the message is clear, start preparing now.

1 YouGov, February 24, 2022