A 2022 survey of over 31,000 people by Microsoft uncovered that 52 per cent of workers are open to conducting team meetings or activities in a virtual space in the next 12 months, while 47 per cent would be willing to represent themselves with an avatar. Additionally, only 16 per cent of respondents could not envisage themselves ever working within the Metaverse.
Given the Metaverse’s predicted prevalence in the working world (or, should I say, the working world’s prevalence in the Metaverse), it’s time for organisations to ensure that their entire workforce is represented and empowered – namely, by building these virtual spaces with diversity and inclusion in mind.
The Metaverse offers accessibility to those who may otherwise have been disconnected from social environments, whether that be for work or leisure. However, a 2021 study from the Institute of Digital Fashion revealed that 60% of respondents were concerned about an increase in potential discrimination toward disabled people within virtual worlds. Organisations need to consider how to ensure these people’s comfort, safety and success.
One idea proposed to combat potentially offensive language (even if used unintentionally) in a virtual workspace is a real-time warning to those communicating. Provided through artificial intelligence, this would give the person speaking an opportunity to rephrase or change their message before delivering it. It could also flag any further incitements to an appropriate member of the HR team.
Of course, there will be instances where the first step for inclusion is ensuring that everyone present can communicate to begin with. Interprefy have already offered live interpreters at Metaverse events. Providing a feature like this for employees or guests who find it harder to communicate verbally or in the same way as the rest of the speakers.
Then it’s about offering independence. Organisations moving into the Metaverse shouldn’t just consider how everyone uses virtual spaces, but also how they create them. Mark Zuckerberg has already demonstrated how visitors will be able to build these spaces through speech alone with an AI-powered assistant, catering to those who are unable to use a computer in the traditional way.
If your organisation wants to implement this, it’s about making sure that users are trained on the software. Some people won’t be able to get their hands on the required hardware, too. Promoting equality and inclusion with authenticity means that this will need to be available to all.
Working in the Metaverse means people have the opportunity to design their appearance. It’s important that this opportunity is afforded to everyone.
Doing this could go some way to removing biases, unconscious or otherwise, that exist in your organisation. My colleague Olivier Pacaud has recently written about how the Metaverse can be used for the recruitment process. Virtual avatars are an effective solution to blind interviews, while deployment in the workplace can result in workers feeling happier and more comfortable.
Giselle Mota explained on the All About HR podcast: “If you can give people a choice of how they want to present themselves by name, why not give them a choice of how they want to present themselves in Avatar form?” Mota’s Unhidden project is promoting this choice, as well as the option for users to disclose their disability through their attire if they so wish.
Nick Clegg, President of Global Affairs at Meta, declared that, “Done well, the metaverse could be a positive force for access and diversity, bridging some of the divides that exist in today’s physical and digital spaces. It needs to be developed openly with a spirit of cooperation between the private sector, lawmakers, civil society, academia and, most importantly, the people who will use these technologies.”
Inclusion in the Metaverse begins at implementation. Survey your workers for a diverse set of opinions on the benefits and possibilities. Then, when designing how these virtual spaces will work for your organisation, make sure to ask employees how it will work for them. Embedding this now will mean greater success and impact than dealing with any concerns as an afterthought.
Global Head of Technology Solutions
James Milligan is the Global Head of Technology Solutions at Hays, having joined in 2000. In his role, he is responsible for the strategic development of Hays' technology businesses globally.