Shadow of working from home

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Shadow of working from home

Kim Chang-gyu
The author is the economic news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

A man works at a large IT company. He is often misunderstood for “goofing around” during workhours when outsiders see him immersed in a game-like computer screen. But he is actually videoconferencing in an office setting in the metaverse, where employees of his company are connected to everyday work via characters in a virtual reality world. Metaverse is a compound word composed of the combination of meta (fictional/abstract) and universe (world/universe.) Today, it refers to a variety of virtual interactive experiences connecting the virtual to the real.
His company has created an office setting close to real space. He does his everyday tasks at his corner in the metaverse, and when he moves around the office or corridor with his mouse, he can even hear other colleagues conversing as if in the real workplace. When he moves his character in front of the conference room, everything is silent until he opens the door to take part in the meeting.
The protracted Covid-19 environment has radically changed the ways of life. People do not just work and study from home. Almost every aspect of life — working, studying, playing and meeting — differs from the past as the real and virtual worlds come together. Experts believe the phenomenon was not sudden but gained traction through the pandemic momentum.
With contactlessness becoming a new norm in the Covid-19 environment, the young in frustration over joblessness, economic hardship, and a lack of communication increasingly fall into the metaverse or virtual reality. The young are quickly adapting to the new environment.
A university professor shared his experience. When he asked a difficult question to a student while lecturing through videoconferencing, silence followed as if in the real class. Other students also kept their heads down. So, the professor tried out a new approach. He had students turn off the camera and join the discussions anonymously or through audio connection. More students participated in the discussions and turned the class lively.
Companies are rushing to the new market. Leading U.S. metaverse platform operator Roblox boasts of a market cap of $45 billion after it went public in March. Users are invited to design games based on Lego-block characters or simply enjoy the game offerings. Luxury houses and large companies are lining up to offer their merchandise on the virtual platform. In May, a limited edition of Gucci-logo digital handbag was sold at $4,115 even when it cannot be seen or shown off outside the cyberspace.
In July, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the company will transform into a metaverse company within five years. Disneyland has created a metaverse theme park. Metaverse has become a new norm.
Companies are coming up with new working and pay systems to reflect the rapidly changing environment. Big-tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter are moving to adopt location-agnostic pay models, or adjusting pay according to the living cost of employees working from home. Employees located in big expensive cities like New York won’t be affected, but workers residing in cheaper locations could see a cut in their paycheck. Sooner or later, companies may separately hire office and home employees.
The market is moving fast towards online and virtual reality. But employers must address multiple challenges. One is creativity. Creative ideas can sprout even without physical communication. But an R&D manager at a large company said that innovation is made through collaboration with many people, and a contactless environment can restrict communication and work efficiency.
When designing the headquarters building of Pixar, Steve Jobs had conference rooms, cafes and restrooms located where people from different walks of life can interact. He thought coincidental meetings and conversations could bring about more creative ideas. Pixar has grown up to be one of the most reliable and creative motion picture producers.
Jeon Jeong-ju, CEO of WeWork Korea, said that ingenious ideas cannot pop up through videoconferencing.
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