Shifting narratives of the new normal: blended workspaces, metaverse, and Web 3.0

Reflecting on the past two years of the pandemic and the changes brought on by it, and on our responses to it, we are now grasping and probing the emerging contours of our ways of working, living, playing, and relating. Many have used the term, ‘new normal’, to encapsulate this change and the various and continuing shifts in how we work, live, play, and relate to each other. Although it may be an awkward term and brings on questions on what is normal and not, what we may demarcate as new, and whether the new normal is a state or process, the term has gained currency and mainstream use.  The new normal has been characterised by the increasing adoption of hybrid working arrangements and, consequently, the hybrid workforce. This narrative of hybrid though does not really attend to hybridity (as the blending or integration as well as splitting or negation of elements of the past and future world of work); and it does not identify the possibilities, challenges, implications, and unintended consequences thereof as well as that of two related future trends: the metaverse and Web 3.0. The narrative of the new normal and hybrid seems to be defined and informed by two implicit dichotomies: two sets of the workforce differentiated by site of work and the physical versus remote/digital/virtual.

metaverseThere are various descriptions of the metaverse. These include: a fully immersive 3D shared virtual ecosystem that is always live and where different virtual worlds are connected to each other; providing a shared space in which you can interact simultaneously with others and their virtual lives and selves through virtual reality (VR) gear (such as Facebook’s Oculus); and can afford some interaction or exchange with the physical world in the future
web 3.0The various investments and experiments in decentralisation and disintermediation of the web as well as and self-sovereign identity. These include decentralised platforms and ways of exchanging goods and value through decentralised ledger technologies (such as blockchains) and digital tokens (such as cryptocurrencies). However, one of the key questions is who is investing and how – with concerns regarding VC funding and incentivisation of the platforms, protocols, and tokens.

We can leave aside for the moment the question of a new normal and whether we have arrived at a new normal or will arrive at it at some point, to explore how blended workspaces (the blend of physical and digital/virtual workspaces), the metaverse, and Web 3.0 will shape and influence the future world of work. We could suggest that ‘we’ will probably inhabit and work and relate between many worlds/realities given the blended workspaces, metaverse, and Web 3.0. This we can denote as an inter-verse where we navigate between and within multiple worlds (including the metaverse or set of multiverses). This can be roughly illustrated as in the diagram below. This means we will inhabit and experience multiple realities and identities, from physical, augmented, to the virtual immersive. Thus, we will need to explore how the employee experience and lifecycle will take form in these different realities, as well as how access, inclusion, and the digital divide will take shape. We will also need to consider potential ethical dilemmas with the emerging technologies and digital transformation of many aspects of our lives and with the creation of digital avatars.

Inter-verse: Navigating the blended realities including individual multiverses and the metaverse

We need to be mindful of how these blended workspaces, metaverse, and Web 3.0 can enable and limit an individual’s realities and identities – as previously noted consider access, inclusion, and the digital divide. There are complex relationships between the blended spaces and the physical, augmented, and virtual realities and identities. The below diagram provides a heuristic framework for deliberating on these complex relationships and how the HR practitioner, for example, needs to expand how they view the physical and digital/virtual workspaces and the realities and identities therein. They need to also expand on how they view employee experience, engagement, and lifecycle, and how working, teaming, and collaborating takes form and can be facilitated within and across the different physical and digital/virtual spaces. As previously noted, the HR practitioner needs to critically examine how the blended workspaces affords and influences how employees craft their work, job, engagement, roles, identities, learning and development, and career paths through these workspaces.

Navigating the blended workspaces, realities, and identities

By Ajay Jivan

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