Leading, learning in the metaverse
We can learn to fluently navigate the rapidly shifting technological landscape with thinkers and doers embedded in industry.
NOW that a certain social network has announced a mega name change, the metaverse is upon all minds and lips. What is it? Who stands to benefit? Who doesn't? Who has to adapt and who will it affect?
The answer is: everyone.
Corporations, educational institutions, governments and everyone in between who aren't off-the-grid skinning rabbits in a bucolic cabin in the woods. The metaverse - a virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users - is the next phase of the Internet.
For instance, you might enter the metaverse to buy an outfit for your digital avatar for a job interview that's also held in the metaverse. After which, you could meet up in a cafe - still within the metaverse - with friends based in different continents, to give them an update on your interview. Then you might go mountaineering, or attend a concert, before you leave the metaverse for the day to get some sleep.
Work, inevitably, will take up a large slice of that metaverse pie. There will be a mass migration of corporations - a digital transformation on a scale never seen before. And leaders must be ready for the move.
Expect social, cultural and practical rules to change… again
The pandemic has upended our ways of working and communicating, creating a new brand of social etiquette - can you DM your boss the way you would go up to their office or desk in person? Are team lunches over a video call awkward or useful? Are virtual offsites a good enough replacement for physical ones?
These adjustments should be seen as growing pains on the road to a total and all-encompassing digital transformation; a transitory phase. Leaders need to be prepared for all of this to change again in the metaverse and take it in stride.
Research by NordVPN showed that employees who work from home put in more hours than before the pandemic. How does this translate to the metaverse, where work and life are played out in the same space, when one could theoretically flit from a meeting room to a mountaintop in a matter of seconds?
So-called inappropriate outfits are on the rise with everyone working from the comfort of their homes. But when digital avatars could be anything, from a three-headed dinosaur to a Mark Zuckerberg lookalike, should leaders enforce a modern-day dress code? How does this affect company culture?
Leadership could flourish, but only by being prepared
A large issue with remote work is that many leaders - C-suite and managerial levels alike - have been thrust into remote management, which requires a different skill set than face-to-face management. In a study, about 40 per cent of supervisors and managers expressed low self-confidence in their ability to manage workers remotely.
The role of leadership could be immense - its potential extends beyond what we've seen, even in the physical world of working from the office. In the office, leaders could share a casual conversation with employees, building rapport and trust. They could do one-on-ones over coffee or even a happy-hour drink to build deeper relationships.
But in the metaverse, leaders could potentially explore more dynamic trust-building activities. They could conduct brainstorming sessions in a gravity-defying setting that stimulates creativity, they could do gravity-defying obstacle courses and conduct one-on-ones over the employee's favourite activity: sailing, rock climbing, chess, F1 race cars… the possibilities abound.
Covid-19 was a spanner that left organisations, governments and institutions scrambling in various ways. What we lacked was preparation - we thought we had the time to learn the ways of remote leadership; but we didn't, and employees are leaving in droves.
This time, we do have the time. Mark Zuckerberg predicts that the metaverse will become mainstream in 5 to 10 years' time. Compared to the global, obliterating crunch we felt from the pandemic, 5 to 10 years is a luxury. Organisations must start to think of ways to prepare and train their leaders for not just remote leadership, but metaverse leadership.
The future isn't predicted, it's created
The metaverse is surely an exciting next step, but the most exciting aspect of it all is the question of how corporate leaders can build a fairer, more equitable and inclusive working environment in this shared, virtual reality space.
For instance, the tricky problem of unconscious bias could be tackled. Research from Centre for Talent Innovation shows that employees who perceive bias at their companies are three times as likely to be disengaged at work, and Gallup estimates that active disengagement costs US companies US$450-550 billion a year.
Bias - unconscious or conscious - is a tricky thing to tackle. It's institutional, cultural and deeply ingrained. While it will take years of work and education to rid ourselves of the various biases we've learnt, the metaverse could potentially speed this process along.
With digital avatars, perhaps the issue of being disabled, dark-skinned or a woman might matter less. People in Metaverse would be valued for their ideas and intellect alone, instead of how they look or what they sound like.
But it's important to know that the metaverse - or any sort of revolutionary tech - will not solve the deep-seated biases we have. These are things that corporations and individuals alike must continue to work on, to unlearn and unravel.
The radical promise and potential of tech, however, does create new forms of value. We question how we might reshape our relationship with technology to transition to a fairer, more purposeful and sustainable world.
We can learn to fluently navigate the rapidly shifting technological landscape with thinkers and doers embedded in industry. We just need to learn.
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