The pandemic has forever reimagined how we think about work. Since 2020, many companies have adopted fully remote or hybrid workplaces. And while employees have adjusted to these changes, they’re also revisiting what they want from their careers. Flexible schedules and more meaningful work are among their top priorities. Employers that don’t keep up with changing employee expectations and demands will lose out on attracting and retaining talent.

But just as employees adapt to work on their own terms, the workplace is set to change once more with the introduction of the metaverse. So, what does that mean for employees and employers, and the future of work as we know it?

In an article published in Harvard Business Review, author Mark Purdy outlines four ways the metaverse will influence our world of work. Read on for some highlights.

New immersive forms of team collaboration

Purdy says the metaverse will allow for “bump into experiences.” Because PixelMax’s immersive technology is so realistic, coworkers will be able to see one another’s avatars in real-time. And because these avatars will exist in a virtual workplace, they’ll quite literally run into one another. According to PixelMax’s co-founder Shay O’Carroll, “Informal and spontaneous conversations account for a huge amount of business communications — research suggests up to 90 percent in areas such as R&D — and during the pandemic we lost a lot of this vital communication.”

The emergence of new digital, AI-enabled coworkers

We’re already familiar — at least vaguely — with digital humans, but what about digital emotions? Purdy cites that emotions will be the next frontier of the metaverse. New Zealand tech startup SoulMachines offers advances in AI (such as machine learning and computer vision) and in autonomous animation (think expressions, eye contact, and real-time gesturing). The result is lifelike digital humans who are emotionally adept. Digital humans will offer professionals the ability to design and create their own digital colleagues to work alongside them.

The acceleration of learning and skills acquisition through virtualization

Professional development is a top priority among both employers and employees in today’s workplace. The metaverse could revolutionize it by making it faster and easier than ever to develop and attain new skills with the introduction of digital coaches. “In the metaverse, every object — a training manual, machine, or product, for example — could be made to be interactive, providing 3-D displays and step-by-step ‘how to’ guides. Virtual reality role-play exercises and simulations will become common, enabling worker avatars to learn in highly realistic, ‘game play’ scenarios, such as ‘the high-pressure sales presentation,’ ‘the difficult client,’ or ‘a challenging employee conversation,'” writes Purdy.

The rise of a metaverse economy with new businesses and roles

Just as the Internet brought about a new digital economy complete with new jobs and businesses, the metaverse will do the same. A new virtual world means endless opportunities for commerce. Think virtual products that can be bought and sold. And when it comes to real estate, the Decentraland platform is creating virtual realtors, enabling users to buy, sell, and build businesses upon parcels of virtual land.

Ultimately “the metaverse also opens up new possibilities to rethink the office and work environment, introducing elements of adventure, spontaneity, and surprise,” cites Purdy. A virtual workplace means boundless creativity to truly create the work environment we truly want, even if only digitally.

Read the full article from Harvard Business Review here.