Talking about how to use metaverse technologies in the corporate world may seem totally 2021, but investors remain bullish and business use cases continue to solidify. It’s amid this backdrop that LineZero’s chief digital officer, Jaime McMahon, looks at the ethical and compliance implications for companies considering metaverse applications in 2024 and beyond.
Editor’s note: Jaime McMahon, author of this article, is chief digital officer at LineZero, a service provider that offers Workplace from Meta business communications products.
According to McKinsey, more than $120 billion was invested in the metaverse in 2022, and more than 15% of corporate revenue is projected to come from the metaverse within the next five years. Indeed, it seems the metaverse is one revolution that companies simply cannot afford to ignore.
However, navigating the landscape of corporate metaverse technology comes with its unique challenges. As an emerging technology, there are several considerations that businesses must consider regarding compliance and regulations before they can embrace metaverse tools.
The potential of the corporate metaverse
One of the aspects of the corporate metaverse that has led to hesitation in its acceptance and adoption is that its use cases are still being developed, but thanks to substantial investments by several high-dollar companies in early use cases — like virtual training and education — there are already a few established. By using metaverse technology in these ways in the corporate environment, businesses will see the most immediate, positive effects from integrating it into their operations.
Take employee training using metaverse technology, for example. Using interactive training exercises in the metaverse has several benefits over traditional methods, such as lecturing or videos, and this approach can allow better engagement both during the training process as well as afterward. According to studies, employees who are engaged in the workplace are 87% less likely to leave their jobs, meaning businesses will benefit from improved retention rates by adopting this technology.
Companies could also see indirect benefits, such as an improved customer experience. Employees with better experiences are more likely to give their customers better experiences, with one study finding that this could allow businesses to charge as much as a 16% premium. Metaverse training activities, such as putting the trainee in the shoes of the customer, are a great way to allow them to empathize more with clients and customers.
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Ethics & regulation
For firms integrating corporate metaverse technology into their operations, changes must be made with a people-first mentality. If what you are doing isn’t modeled to help people — whether employees or customers — you’re going about it the wrong way. Every metaverse use case should be designed to improve the experience over what is currently provided by existing 2D methods.
Many businesses worry about how they can integrate metaverse technology into their operations ethically — especially as they ask their employees to navigate what is effectively a different world. Are there different individual rights that must be taken into account in this new world? For example, in the real world, there are certain expectations when it comes to physical space. If someone “invades” another’s personal space, it can create conflict. In the metaverse, does invading another person’s sightline constitute an invasion of personal space?
Thus, it is essential for companies that plan to use corporate metaverse technology to create boundaries that allow their employees to feel comfortable with this new virtual environment. The easiest way to do so is to create a clear set of policies that outline acceptable and unacceptable uses of this technology, as well as acceptable and unacceptable behaviors while using it.
Still, it isn’t just internal policies that businesses must ensure they are in compliance with — there are regulations and legal guidelines that govern metaverse technology. There are several categories in which regulation is emerging for the metaverse, including intellectual property (IP) law, conduct, privacy and safety, so businesses using this technology must ensure they are in compliance with these strict standards.
One important regulation that applies to many companies is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Applying to metaverses controlled or processed by providers in the European Union, the GDPR places restrictions on what data can be collected and used about a user’s actions in the metaverse to create advertising. But here, again, ethical practice is murky.
There has been much confusion around the creation of digital avatars in the metaverse space and whether this constitutes personal data. The controversy over this topic is nothing new. For example, take Facebook’s capability to create digital avatars using a photo and the legal questions raised surrounding that. Some argue that if a user’s digital avatar is a realistic representation of their likeness — with factors such as skin tone, body shape or feature — this should be considered protected personal data, while others argue that it is impossible to tell whether an avatar is based on a real source of information or entirely artificial. Therefore, it is essential for businesses to tread carefully.
Building a culture of acceptance
Anytime you embrace a new technology, there will be some level of risk involved. There’s always a chance that the technology will malfunction, and there’s also the chance your employees won’t find these new tools useful or helpful and will reject them altogether.
Nevertheless, it is the job of the employer to learn how to manage these risks. Identify any shortcomings the technology may have and find ways to address them, or even turn them into an opportunity for growth.
One step employers must take when first implementing corporate metaverse technology is to remain open to feedback. After all, the people who will know the most about whether the technology works are those who actually use it. Furthermore, those who get the opportunity to use this innovative new technology may discover exciting new use cases that leaders may not have thought of themselves.
Remember, the metaverse is all about fostering an environment of collaboration. If business leaders hope to explore the potential of metaverse tech ethically, it is important that they listen to their employees’ needs and feedback.
The corporate metaverse is filled with potential, and embracing this technology could have several benefits for businesses — from improved employee retention to an improved customer experience. However, to embrace this technology ethically and responsibly, these businesses must understand the implications of this technology, as well as adhere to any governmental regulations that may come into play regarding this emerging landscape.