The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly accelerated the rate at which businesses virtualize and shift to digital platforms. Craig Williams, Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Ciena, discusses the pros and cons of remote working and considers the role the metaverse will play in the near future.
Much has been said about the scale and pace of Digital Transformation since the pandemic. In just a few short months, the COVID-19 pandemic brought about years of change in the way companies in all sectors and regions do business.
In fact, a survey from McKinsey in 2021 suggested that the overall adoption of digital technologies had sped up by three to seven years and that these technology endowments also coincided with a rapid acceleration of the pace at which business happens.
Virtualization has seeped into every area of business. From customer to supply chain interactions, new digital tools have been vital in maintaining business as usual, but they’ve also been credited with driving significant efficiencies and revolutionizing the way in which we engage with our customers. But it’s the collaboration layer that continues to be the foundational challenge and opportunity for CIOs.
This layer is also the one that seems to dominate column inches. It’s this layer that enabled us all to deliver for our companies and for our customers and it’s this layer that continues to feed into intense discussions around employee engagement and productivity, prompting questions about whether remote staff are working as hard as they could be.
As organizations across the world continue fine-tuning workplace policy to fit their individual contexts, what’s clear is that a mixture of remote and in-office work will be our ongoing reality for the foreseeable future. But beyond that, we’re also starting to explore how deeper immersion for staff, regardless of where they’re based, might be facilitated by a fully virtual workplace.
A recent international study by Ciena found that 68% of US professionals can see the metaverse becoming part of existing work practices and more than half (58%) think their business will move away from static collaboration environments to more immersive/Virtual Reality-based platforms in just three years.
The cultural shifts seeding deeper immersion
Colleagues in the tech sector have had a significant advantage over other sectors with digital collaboration tools.
Many had been working remotely or managing remote teams before COVID-19 forced a wider shift. At Ciena, the integration of a range of collaboration tools allowed us to access vital talent across our markets and ensured that delivery teams, no matter where they were based, had access to the support they needed.
The pandemic, however, was a force multiplier. It drove a cultural shift and organizations across the board started thinking deeply about how their technology environments fostered the same touchpoints that drive engagement and seamless collaboration in a fully hybrid world.
Despite its successes, hybrid working continues to pose specific challenges around physical/virtual inequities – whether remote staff are experiencing work in the same way as those in offices – and the very real threat of Zoom fatigue.
It’s no surprise, then, that Ciena’s metaverse study also found that 79% of US professionals would conduct work meetings and tasks in the metaverse instead of traditional video conferencing tools.
What had previously been touted as predominantly a consumer-centric tool is now being considered as a platform for workplace collaboration. The same survey suggested that US respondents would use enhanced reality or metaverse tools for work (48%) more so than for socializing (46%) or gaming (38%).
Making work meta – the answer to hybrid woes or a distraction?
Within the context of the Great Resignation, we can quickly see why engineering the best possible employee experience through technology has become a vital priority.
The metaverse, as it’s been envisioned, ensures the same flexibility that employees now expect, but without the isolation and disconnection sometimes associated with our current setups.
Virtual Reality (VR) offices could bring back shared walks through hallways and water cooler brainstorms and they could solve the digital whiteboard conundrum, where notes on a (now digital) whiteboard are automatically saved to the cloud.
Holding meetings that allow for more hands-on collaboration is an obvious place to start. But the metaverse is also an innovative solution for onboarding new staff and allowing those who work remotely to connect with teammates and supervisors they may not have a chance to meet in the physical world.
But the increasing appetite for more immersive workplace collaboration is happening in tandem with growing modernization demands on enterprise IT leaders. Couple the demand for lean technology at pace with the constrained economic environment that most businesses find themselves facing and it’s no surprise that the majority of enterprise leaders are taking a cautious approach to investing in the metaverse.
A recent survey published by KPMG found that ‘almost two-thirds of executives say they are waiting for competitors to invest in and/or adopt metaverse technology themselves.’
The route to more immersive technologies in the workplace will require radical prioritization from CIOs and they’ll need to look much closer at the order of investments and implementations when considering the long-term technology roadmap.
The productivity and cultural benefits seem aplenty, but virtual reality investments, as with all technology investments, must be purposeful and driven by the individual business context.
Mark Zuckerburg and Meta have inspired millions across the globe with their vision for virtual worlds but realizing this vision in the workplace will take a concerted effort from enterprise leaders who see myriad opportunities around them.
The metaverse won’t replace face-to-face, but it does open up new possibilities for engagement – if we don’t limit our thinking in this new, future world.Click below to share this article