You sit on a chair, drink a sip of coffee, and turn your laptop on. You look around and see the beach through the window. You have lived in Australia for three years, working for a company based in Korea. You put on virtual reality (VR) glasses. The commute is an instance. You, or your avatar, are in the office. Your teammate shares the weekly agenda and suggests a board game during lunch. Your boss says hi to you in Thailand. In your virtual office, your avatar always has clean hair and wears a tidy white shirt. Of course, the “real” you in Australia, are in your favorite sweatpants.
This scenario will be a typical day for many employees. It may seem like a pipe dream, but this transformation is already just around the corner. Facebook recently announced its new name, Meta. As the name suggests, it focuses on lives which the metaverse will completely change. In its video, Mark Zuckerberg introduces the future of work in the metaverse. One of his coworkers is dressed as a robot. The avatars do not walk; instead, they fly. Remember, you are experiencing it all in your room. In the future, physical space will not matter. While transforming the worksite completely into a metaverse may take a long haul, elimination of the office is a very close future. To share the understanding, we must be able to answer these questions beforehand: Will it completely eradicate the need for physical communication? More importantly, what exactly is this future?
The term “digital nomad” seems to represent the lifestyle illustrated earlier, but this term fails to represent this world. The future we are about to encounter covers a more extensive range of people. If you are the kind of person who thrives in a dynamic environment, great; even if you need a stable environment, this future welcomes you as well. If your house cannot offer an ideal environment, there are plenty of coworking hubs to choose from. Global workplace analytics shows that 76 million workers in the United States, which is half the workforce, want to work at remote offices. This means not only young workers but also employees with extensive work experience prefer to work in places other than the office. The nine to six on-site work cycle has collapsed, and employees are already being given more flexibility. According to a study by Stanford University, people working from home spend 10 minutes less being unproductive each day and stay 13% more productive on average. Without a need to put on a work persona and deal with internal politics, the energy is transferred to long-term productivity.
The visualization of this future usually accompanies isolation. Will metaverse deplete the connection and lead to a dystopian future where communication losses its value? To come to the point, it is quite the opposite. Microsoft states that 62% of people working from home feel more sympathetic towards colleagues as they spot a glimpse of each other’s lives. As a personal experience, when I heard a teammate’s dog barking during an internship orientation call on the first day, I instantly felt a sense of closeness and had a friendly chat with her. Connections may also happen outside of work, and one might easily meet people in the same field and share common resources.
Still, challenges remain. Essential jobs such as healthcare, food service workers, and disposal workers are not given a choice to work at home. Lack of boundaries between work and life has negatively affected the well-being of some workers. Despite the challenges, the crucial thing is that now, the employees are given more autonomy in their work and play configuration. The change may be terrifying, but looking back, every innovative change in history entailed confusion. This future will allow workers to form their personalized cycles of performance and recovery, just like athletes do, and allow sustainable productivity of firms. This is a fundamental paradigm shift. One may think the pandemic made it happen. However, it just pulled the future to us, which was already on its way.
Cho Hae-rang (Economics)
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