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Visitors look at an immersive art installation titled ‘Machine Hallucinations Space: Metaverse’ by Refik Anadol at the Digital Art Fair Asia in Hong Kong, Oct. 3, 2021.
Lam Yik | Bloomberg | Getty Images
When Facebook announced it had changed its company name to Meta, the virtual world known as the metaverse suddenly got a lot of attention.
Meta is aiming to build a digital experience where multiple people can interact in a 3D environment with CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlining his plan to transition away from being a social network and becoming a metaverse company.
No longer a place solely for geeks and gamers, some say metaverse worlds are set to go mainstream and will be the next evolution of the internet. Others say its just the latest corporate buzzword to get investors excited over some nebulous innovation.
Regardless, brands and businesses are already looking to create immersive environments where people can work and play. Meta started testing its remote work app Horizon Workrooms in August, with people using the company’s Oculus Quest 2 headsets to hold meetings using avatars of themselves, per Reuters.
One way companies are planning to use the metaverse is for hiring and people management, with the likes of Hyundai already using virtual world app Zepeto for new employee inductions and Samsung reportedly staging a virtual recruitment fair via a platform called Gather in September.
Working from home during coronavirus lockdowns over the past 18 months accelerated demand for virtual worlds, according to Thomas Johann Lorenz, co-founder of Journee, which describes itself as a metaverse company.
“When it comes to retaining talent at your company or keeping up a company culture in the remote-first age, you need tools … that are stronger than just email and Zoom,” he told CNBC by phone. “The internet as we know it … has so far been about [a] highly efficient exchange of data and information,” he added, while he said the metaverse will be able to tap into human communication that is about “relationships, emotions and experiences.”
The firm created a metaverse for Siemens, where it held a virtual conference. Employees who were connecting for the first time could meet on a virtual beach to watch fireworks and take group selfies, and the firm has also worked on metaverse experiences for BMW and Adidas. Lorenz expects the metaverse to feature on existing hardware such as smartphones, and said virtual reality headsets won’t be required for such experiences.
Journee is currently working for a large pharmaceuticals firm on a hiring project, with the company aiming to communicate its health care work “beautifully” to candidates who can ask questions of staff via a virtual world. Recruits can also learn about a firm’s “story,” important when potential staff increasingly want to know about a company’s purpose, Lorenz said, adding that firms that want to attract tech talent need to go beyond traditional ways of hiring.
While Meta may talk about virtual worlds as new and immersive experiences, others see the metaverse as already existing via platforms like Discord, which started out as a place for video gamers to hang out online.
Art director Richard Chen ran a Space Bugs art project that saw more than 3,000 nonfungible tokens sell out in six hours last week after being launched on the OpenSea marketplace. NFTs are unique assets, such as artworks, that are verified and stored using blockchain technology. They are often bought using cryptocurrencies.
“The NFT market is so new that there’s very few experts for hire from social and marketing agencies, but the experts are the people sat at home behind their computer screen,” he told CNBC by email. Chen has hired around 25 community managers the firm initially found in Discord chat rooms, having them work on pilot projects to assess their skills.
“They can’t be easily found in real life or the best talents aren’t always near you location-wise so getting them from the metaverse is the best way forward for our niche projects,” Chen added. The firm has also used audio app Clubhouse and messaging app Telegram for hiring and Chen said he learned “a lot” about the blockchain and metaverse from Discord members.
Not everyone is convinced of the potential of the metaverse. Kubi Springer, founder of consultancy SheBuildsBrands, said there is a generational divide. While her nine year-old son plays games via virtual platform Roblox (whose founder told CNBC its business plan has been based on the metaverse for 16 years) and is excited about the future of virtual worlds, Springer herself is less convinced. “We just don’t have enough of a hold on this technology,” she told CNBC via phone.
“Technology’s amazing. It’s advanced our lives in many different ways [but] I think there [are] also many things that we’re seeing, including the dark web that shows that technology and augmented reality and AI, we need to have a really strong hold on it, or it will have a strong hold on us,” she said.
Springer expects companies to use metaverse platforms for hiring, but is concerned about data protection and security, as well as the efficacy of virtual worlds. “You don’t hire people just off of skills and talents … you hire them off that feeling you get when you connect with a human being to work out whether or not they’re somebody that might be a great fit for the team … And how do you gauge that in the metaverse?”
As with all new technology, companies need staff that understand how it can be applied. Digital agency R/GA is currently hiring for a “head of immersive,” someone who can run its “direct to avatar” division, which is creating virtual e-commerce stores in places like Decentraland, a self-proclaimed metaverse for buying and selling land.
But it is proving difficult to find someone with the right combination of skills, according to Nick Pringle, R/GA London’s executive creative director. “We’re trying to find a bit of a unicorn in a way: we need someone who’s got big brand experience who knows how to operate with large clients and [also] has an innate understanding of the platforms … there’s probably people you could count on one hand right now [who have that],” he told CNBC by video call. While R/GA isn’t using metaverse platforms for hiring yet, it expects to in future.
And, Pringle said, there is a tension between large, centralized metaverse worlds created by the likes of Meta, Microsoft and gaming company Epic and decentralized places where people own their data. “If we want to get to a metaverse where you jump from place to place to place, what they call ‘interoperability,’ then you need to have one open protocol, one open way of coding that like HTML did for email,” he told CNBC.
Martin Migoya, CEO of consultancy Globant, agrees that the “plumbing” behind the metaverse is still at an early stage, and told CNBC by video call he thinks virtual worlds can be positive for hiring: “When you’re interviewing [people] on a screen, you don’t know a lot of things about them. But when you have the possibility to express many new things like you can express with your avatar in the metaverse, I think there will be a lot of opportunities to really understand people much better than before.”
– CNBC’s Annie Nova, Sam Shead and Ryan Browne contributed to this report.
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