The metaverse is a new and quickly changing tech sector, and there is a lot of excitement about its potential across many areas of work and life. However, any organization considering implementing metaverse technologies as pilots or at scale should consider the potential pitfalls.
As future-focused as they sound, metaverse technologies already have practical enterprise applications. "When you consider the fundamentals of how we create, communicate, and collaborate in the digital world, the metaverse is simply a more immersive and personalized version of how we already work," said Salim Elkhou, CEO of Onna.
But the potential problems of metaverse technologies include regulatory issues, skills bottlenecks, and consumer and client skepticism. For example, 55% of adults are concerned about how their data will be used and tracked in the metaverse, a new Morning Consult survey found.
Proactive planning will allow organizations to take advantage of metaverse technologies that make sense for their operations, as they emerge. It will also help those same organizations avoid some of the many pitfalls these technologies present, especially during this time of intense hype.
"Not all enterprises need to have a virtual presence for marketing," said Andreas Grant, network security engineer and founder of Networks Hardware. "Yet, as the hype train is very much real, the enterprises are not thinking through it before jumping on it."
Metaverse Technical Problems
As much buzz as there is around the sector, at this point metaverse technologies are limited. The result is that many enterprises want to explore the potential of this sector but are limited by its status as emerging tech.
"The metaverse is still in its early stages of development, so it can be difficult to find skilled developers who are familiar with the platform," said Morshed Alam, founder and editor of Savvy Programmer. "Additionally, there are not many tools or resources available to help IT professionals manage and optimize their virtual infrastructure within the metaverse."
Executive reluctance to invest heavily in what is still an emerging tech sector somewhat reduces the demand for skills development in related areas like virtual reality, Alam said. However, moving quickly to adopt, or even pilot, metaverse-related technologies can run up against ongoing skills shortages in several related employment areas. The World Economic Forum expects a majority of companies to adopt metaverse-related technologies like machine learning, cloud computing, and alternate/virtual reality by this year. However, nearly three-quarters of respondents to a recent Salesforce survey said they don't have the digital skills they need in the workplace, now or in the future.
More broadly, metaverse technologies may both alleviate and exacerbate problems related to remote and hybrid workplaces. On one hand, virtual reality makes situations like digital walkthroughs of a workspace or virtual employee meetings possible, said Lars Hyland, chief learning officer of Totara Learning. This can be particularly valuable during the first months of employment, he said, as it helps colleagues connect and become familiar with workplace culture.
"Quickly attaining familiarity with your surroundings is key as it makes you feel more connected with other colleagues, new and experienced," Hyland said. "When the default working pattern is remote or hybrid, then this is all the more important." At the same time, the loss of nuances such as body language or eye contact during recruitment represents one of the problems of the metaverse in some use cases, he said.
Ultimately, enterprise decisions to invest in metaverse technologies must be balanced with overall IT needs and the available talent and resources in other key operational areas.
Metaverse Ethics and Privacy Problems
There are also ethical questions to ask about this sector, on a variety of issues and levels of risk. Metaverse technology could actually reduce some of those workplace risks. For example, virtual reality has long been used in training and simulations, Hyland said, and emerging tech makes this approach increasingly valuable and accessible.
"The aerospace industry has pioneered this field for years with their flight simulators, and there are now multiple use cases of VR training for hazardous work environments, ranging from construction, nuclear energy, and even field workers operating in challenging societal and political environments," he said. Metaverse technologies could open up new educational opportunities that protect employees from dangerous environments, or allow them to complete more training virtually before they go into hazardous situations.
Also, companies already collect, store, and use vast amounts of data about their operations, their employees, and their clients. This will only accelerate as adoption of metaverse technologies increases, and IT professionals will have to plan for factors like upskilling, staff expansion, and data storage with increased investment.
Some metaverse technologies require users to provide biometrics data — for example, fingerprints or facial scans. Employees and clients will likely have legitimate concerns about how this data is accessed and stored, and whether its collection is necessary at all.
"Just like anti-vax and pro-vaccine movements, there will be people hesitant to hand over their biometric data," Grant said. Some people may also have physical health concerns, such as motion sickness or mental health issues, related to metaverse technologies.
Any enterprise that adopts metaverse technologies, or any other tech collecting potentially sensitive data, must be aware of the laws around data collection and use and have internal policies that are transparent and available. Even then, it's important to consider alternatives to metaverse tech, in case an employee or client cannot or does not want to use it.
Metaverse Regulatory Problems
Some of the privacy-related problems of the metaverse exist because the technology is advancing more quickly than the regulation. Data collection and storage, cryptocurrency, and geographical jurisdiction are just a few of the metaverse-related areas policies and regulations must address.
Just as with data collection laws such as the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), one key metaverse-related problem for enterprises will be solving the issue of jurisdiction. For example, from a legal perspective, it's not always clear where digital spaces like branded domains or "properties" in virtual worlds are truly located.
"With the expanding amount of virtual space available to users around the world, determining the ways by which the subject of jurisdiction will be applied will become increasingly crucial," said Andreas Velling, chief marketing officer of Fractory. Successful metaverse communities will attract individuals and organizations from around the world — their lack of traditional boundaries is an advantage in some ways but a liability to those users in others.
As a result, many of the jurisdictional headaches IT professionals already experience will be amplified. "It will be difficult to identify jurisdictions and a set of regulations that can be enacted to ensure that the virtual environment is safe and secure for its users," Velling said.
Enterprises must consider internal policies concerning jurisdiction and existing legislation, just as they do for physical spaces or those in more established digital spaces. At the same time, organizational leaders will need to be aware of what is likely to be a shifting legal landscape in this sector.