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Employers see promise in a metaverse workplace. Employees are a little more skeptical

Key Points
  • Meta, Apple, Google, and Microsoft are moving ahead into the metaverse, making investments in hardware that signal their bullishness.
  • Meta, which acquired VR headset company Oculus for $2 billion in 2014, already has the top-selling Quest headset and is reportedly working on a high-end device.
  • Apple's mixed reality headset is reportedly set to debut early next year, and Google's AR glasses and headset should become available in 2024. Microsoft's HoloLens is an enterprise play, but a consumer version is reportedly in the works.
Attendees walk through a Metaverse Zone exhibit during the CoinDesk 2022 Consensus Festival in Austin, Texas, US, on Friday, June 10, 2022.
Jordan Vonderhaar | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Tech's biggest companies are staking their claim in the metaverse. Is that a sound bet?

It's been nine months since Facebook renamed itself Meta and since then, the economy has been going through the pains of a slowdown with tech layoffs and the back-and-forth debate of whether we're in a recession or not. Friday's jobs report showed that 528,000 jobs were added in July, well above the 258,000 expected, yet layoffs and hiring slowdowns were the topics of conversation on tech earnings calls over the past week.

None of this has seemingly dampened plans by Meta, Apple, Google, and Microsoft to move ahead into the metaverse. Each is making investments in hardware and staffing that signal their bullishness for the potential of the internet's next big frontier.

Last week, CNBC's Julia Boorstin joined Squawk Box to discuss just how much these tech giants are spending, and to break down what success might look like. The Today show is also exploring the metaverse, and kicked off its coverage with Meta vice president Vishal Shah providing a tour of the virtual games and concerts we'll be able to attend in this new, immersive world.

What's next for tech's big bet on the metaverse?
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But beyond all the hype, there are some real-world questions being asked about how big an opportunity the metaverse presents. Some wonder whether early players are fighting in a winner-takes-all battle, while others question how important hardware will be in the widespread acceptance and success of the metaverse. And of course, after the massive workplace disruptions brought about by the pandemic, it's natural to wonder how the metaverse will change the way we work.  

By most accounts, there's plenty of room for the big players to each have their piece of the metaverse, and hardware is a key component for success. Meta, which acquired VR headset company Oculus for $2 billion in 2014, already has the top-selling Quest headset and is reportedly working on a high-end device. Apple's mixed reality headset is reportedly set to debut early next year, and Google's AR glasses and headset should become available in 2024. Microsoft's HoloLens is an enterprise play, but a consumer version is reportedly in the works.

As Boorstin pointed out in her report, the likely scenario to emerge is a headset market aimed at three different segments — enterprise; higher-priced offerings for serious gamers; and a cheaper version for casual users.

But if you listen to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg speak for any length of time, it's clear that his vision of the metaverse goes way beyond gaming. The metaverse, he says, is a different way to experience life, and within that field, of course, is work.

How the metaverse can affect the workplace

So how will the metaverse affect the way we do our jobs—and further impact where we do them? To get some answers, software company ExpressVPN recently surveyed 1,500 employees and 1,500 companies in the U.S. Harold Li, vice president at the company, says the pandemic forced "new ways of working and companies weren't really set up to do it properly. Technology had certainly come a long way but it was still clunky. Everyone is looking for something better and the metaverse is this shiny new unknown."

Among the questions ExpressVPN asked employees in the survey: Why are you interested in working in the metaverse? The top four responses were:

  • Increased work-from-home flexibility (45%)
  • An easier way to collaborate with co-workers (36%)
  • Increased job opportunities (33%)
  • Ability to "travel" virtually (33%)

The employees surveyed did have some concerns, with digital privacy and security, and employer surveillance being at the top of the list. When asked how soon they foresee working in a metaverse environment, 46% of Gen Z said within the next two years compared with 19% of Baby Boomers.

Of course, there are skeptics who believe the metaverse is nothing but hype, including Phil Libin, CEO and co-founder of video communication company mmhmm. He was a guest at CNBC's Technology Executive Council Town Hall in February to explain why he believes this "squishscammy" term, as he has called the metaverse on Twitter, will be nothing more than "the butt of a joke in six months."

It's still too early to tell who is right. Money is flowing into the metaverse — global VCs have invested $1.9 billion in metaverse companies so far this year — but the jury is still out.

"The metaverse can mean so many things," says Li. "There's no question we're going to see very diverse ways of communicating and interacting in the years ahead and that's the exciting part. Whether we wrap all that up under the name metaverse remains to be seen."

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