The Great HR Debate: Metaverse & its implications for HR

As part of the Great HR Debate 2023, industry leaders Bhuvaneswar Naik, Sailesh Menezes, Renil Kumar and Jays Chandy discussed the future of the metaverse and how it could affect HR.

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Technology has come a long way in the last few years. Since the start of the pandemic, one of the key focuses of the tech industry has been the metaverse. In its essence, the metaverse is an alternate reality in virtual reality (VR).

The first major Domino fell when Facebook renamed itself ‘Meta’ in an event hosted by CEO Mark Zuckerbeg. At that event, Zuckerberg delved into the present day uses of the metaverse and its future to justify the immense investments the company had made in VR development and other metaverse platforms.

Since then, the metaverse has remained an important and popular topic in discussions about the future of human connectivity. As the metaverse looks to change how humans interact on a day-to-day basis, it is up to HR professionals to fully understand the scope of the platform.

At The Great HR Debate, 2023, held at the Lalit Ashok, Bengaluru, industry stalwarts Bhuvaneswar Naik, CHRO, Lentra; Sailesh Menezes, head HR, India, HPE and Renil Kumar, CHRO, Photon, moderated by Jays Chandy, CPO, Censanext, discussed the various use cases and implications of platforms like the metaverse and the future of HR.

How is it being used today?

To understand how the metaverse can be used in the future, it is important to understand how organisations are utilising such platforms today.

The metaverse, still in its infancy, has been experimented with by a few big players. Most of the use cases observed have been in retail. Fashion houses have been hosting special meta-fashion shows on private metaverse servers allowing people to watch special showings of collections exclusively made for the metaverse from the comfort of their own home.

“It creates an incredibly immersive experience for those who’ve tried it and is quite effective.”

Jays Chandy, CPO, Censanext

Nike tied up with popular gaming platform, Roblox, to create special metaverse Nike wearables that users on the game could buy and use for their avatars. The company has also invested substantially into the metaverse and created a dedicated team for virtual wearables.

Renil Kumar explained why so many retail brands have utilised the metaverse in its early stages. “One of the key issues in retail today has been the returns. Customers buy three pieces of clothing and return two, which is incredibly unsustainable and no good for profits. The metaverse provides organisations with a platform to create a virtual store, helping users make better informed decisions about their purchases.”

Another use case discussed during the debate was off-site site visits. Jays Chandy described the advantages and how his organisation utilises VR for the same.

“We have carried out VR site visits from the office for investors who may not be able to visit the actual site.” He went on to say, “It creates an incredibly immersive experience for those who’ve tried it and is quite effective”.

How can it be used tomorrow?

Most of the promises of the metaverse are dependent on how it matures and when it fully develops. On the surface, the metaverse looks very promising for a number of use cases in the corporate environment.

Virtual office: Remote work can be completely revitalised. Employees can find ways to experience an office environment while working from home, just by putting on a VR headset. Companies that invest in creating private metaverse servers can leverage the platform to create virtual office spaces that employees can join to get a feel of working at the office.

Banking: Kumar discussed how banks can use the metaverse in the near future. “We have seen banks explore the idea of moving to the metaverse. With added security measures such as blockchain, the banking sector is looking to move operations to the metaverse.”

“With added security measures such as blockchain, the banking sector is looking to move operations to the metaverse.”

Renil Kumar, CHRO, Photon

Learning and development: Bhuvaneswar Naik sees great promise in the metaverse in terms of learning and development. “In high-risk industries such as oil refineries or drilling, the ability to reconstruct the sites on which these high-risk activities are performed, can help employees — who require the appropriate certifications — to learn how to repair and function in a similar environment without actually putting themselves at risk.”

In such situations, it provides employees the perfect platform to make mistakes in an environment with lesser repercussions and learn their work well before being sent out to the actual site.

Recruitment: In terms of talent recruitment and mental well-being, Naik mentioned how great the metaverse can be when trying to convince a future employee to join the workforce.

“You can take them around the campus and give them a glimpse of what their future workplace can look like, showing them actual tangible examples of the company culture via the metaverse.”

He went on to add, “Employees can also use the platform for counselling sessions where their avatars can speak to the certified professionals, for privacy reasons.”

While the uses and advantages of the metaverse are endless, what matters is how effectively organisations will be able to implement it and what challenges they may face in doing so.

How will it affect HR?

It is vital for organisations working in a corporate environment to tread carefully when dipping their toes into the unknown waters of the metaverse. The metaverse will make managing the people function extremely difficult.

Naik discussed the possible ethical and legal implications of a virtual platform such as the metaverse for organisations.

“Doing a shoddy job of implementing the metaverse can kill the existing company culture that helped the organisation grow in the first place.”

Bhuvaneswar Naik, CHRO, Lentra

Work / time management: “Organisations need to take complete responsibility while implementing platforms such as this. Identity can be a real problem for organisations to tackle with on the platform. People can very well disguise themselves in a different avatar and still be a part of the system. Regulating the workforce and managing deadlines will be critical, as even today, managers hide behind work- from-home mandates when their teams miss deadlines. Employees can feel incredibly lonely working on their own even though they have the illusion of working in an office space,” explained Naik.

Implementation challenges: Further expanding on the same, Naik said, “Being a completely virtual platform, it begs many questions that need to be addressed by the consumers. The metaverse poses issues pertaining to data security, controls, regulation and content curation. Doing a shoddy job of implementing the platform can kill the existing company culture that helped the organisation grow in the first place.”

Cost: Sailesh Menezes drew attention to a few more issues that he saw as hindrances to organisations trying to go full steam ahead into a metaverse project.

“Cost is a major factor when discussing the metaverse, buying a VR headset could set an organisation back anywhere from INR 9,000 to INR 60,000. It isn’t cheap. Bandwidth and connectivity are also glaring issues. With the 5G network being slowly introduced into the country, it will take time for tier-2 and tier-3 cities to fully adopt the 5G network infrastructure, which will inhibit organisations from investing in the metaverse,” he pointed out.

Kumar dived into the divide such a platform could create. “With the costs and connectivity issues, for a small company of around 1000 employees, it could cost nearly 1.5 to 2 million dollars to just get started,” said Kumar. Adoption for the platform is reliant on the price of the technology. “Unless the price falls, the metaverse cannot not be adopted on a large scale,”felt Kumar.

“VR, when used for prolonged periods of time, can blur the line between what is real and what is not.”

Sailesh Menezes, head HR, India, HPE

Social issues: Menezes talked about the social issues that could crop up in the metaverse. “VR, when used for prolonged periods of time, can blur the line between what is real and what is not,” he said. This can create a situation where employees can dissociate from real-world functions. Harassment is a real problem in the virtual space. “The digital avatars used in the metaverse are a reflection of one’s actual selves, thus organisations must be incredibly careful when it comes to the adoption of the metaverse,” he pointed out.

Although the use cases of the metaverse may be extraordinary, the core issues it presents create more anxiety about the adoption of the platform than not. A clear path of adoption has not yet been observed by most parties and has become a growing point of concern for prospective adopters.

The event is powered by Tata Steel Industrial Consulting in association with Keka HR. Other partners are Vantage Circle (employee engagement partner), Greyt HR (HR and payroll partner), Thomas Assessment ( talent assessment partner ) & NHRD Bangalore Chapter (community partner). The event is supported by XLRI Alumni Bangalore Chapter & XISS Alumni Bangalore Chapter.

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