Why we need the Workplace Metaverse

Plenty of experiences can and will spring from the 'Metaverse', but we’re building the best possible bridge between work lives and real lives in a human-centered way.
An image of an empty conference room that has been pixelated
Vishal Punwani, Co-founder & CEO
January 5, 2022

Note: This piece is the first of a 3-part Series. Read ‘Part II: Work Today Doesn’t Work’ here, and ‘Part III: Building a Workplace that Works for Everyone’ here.

Hey y’all, Vish here. I want to talk to you about the ‘Workplace Metaverse’. That’s our vision for the future of work here at SoWork.

Though the term has been around since the science fiction novel Snow Crash explored it (and it was probably conceptualized much earlier than that), ‘Metaverse’ is still a pretty new concept for lots of people. At its core, a Metaverse is simply an interface between our real, physical world, and one or more instances of our digital world. Plenty of possible user experiences can and will spring from this definition, but we’re specifically interested in building the best possible interface experience that allows people to bridge their work lives and their real lives in a human-centered way.

Human compatible

I’ve been thinking about this space for almost two decades, since meeting many of my current teammates online playing World of Warcraft in 2004 (we built the best raiding guild on the server, but let’s not focus on that). But things really started to accelerate in our thinking over the past couple of years due to the pandemic, as ‘workplace’ for many of us became distributed.

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, like most companies, my team was relegated to using Slack and Zoom for our business communications. And they got the job done adequately. But no one I knew — and certainly no one on our team — was thrilled about using them. To this day, I still have never, ever heard anyone say ‘oh my god, I cannot wait to take all my Zoom calls today!’. Similarly, I’ve never, ever heard anyone gush about Slack. It’s just…there. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a clear sign that we’re not quite there yet — broad consensus is that this is decidedly not the ‘future of work’. By no means is this meant to be a knock on those two softwares — they’ve done an excellent job narrowly bridging a specific part of the communication chasm over the past 2 years. But there’s certainly more in store for teams around the world who want to thrive rather than merely survive in our new, distributed, hybrid world. More on that later.

So we trundled on for a while (I’ve always wanted to use that word in a piece crosses it off bucket list), using Zoom and Slack, for a few months actually, and things were getting done. We were still communicating about work. Sure. Meetings were being booked. Calendars were filling up. Yep. Video calls were happening. Progress was being made. Yes. All of those things were true. But we could feel something slipping. Something felt ‘off’. I know you feel it too. All of this continued progress came at a cost. And make no mistake, it’s still costing most companies.

Under the hood, teammate connection on teams who continue to go this route is slowly eroding. Zoom fatigue and Slack noise is real, even when those tools are used ‘correctly’. Team pride is fading. That team you worked so hard to recruit? Their employee experience is dying. Healthy teams are becoming unhealthy teams. Strong ties are degrading to weak ties. People can’t be themselves, or show off who they are — this is a fundamental human need. What made your company special in the physical world is no longer possible. And business results will eventually go the wrong way, too.

We felt all of this first-hand, and it hurt. In fact, it hurt so bad after all the work we put in to build a healthy, strong, performant team, that one day we finally said ‘no more’. And we decided to build a better way.

Inspired by the strength of the bonds we’d created with each other during our WoW days — when we had no video, audio, or proper chat — we decided to create the ‘World of Workcraft’. The world’s first Workplace MMO. The Workplace Metaverse. It would be avatar-centric to give employees back their sense of selves after having their personalities reduced to a Zoom background or Slack name for so long. It would be focused on YOU, your health at work, your ability to thrive, and connect, and build things with your teammates that you’d be proud of. So we put our heads down, whipped up an MVP, and released v0.9 in October 2020.

It had avatars and emotes to help our team feel seen and heard for who we really are. Without being physically together, we were back in a shared space with a shared purpose. We got back the spontaneous conversations and meetings that drove relationship-building and innovation across the company. We were able to stop the forced 30-minute calendar slots that break up days. We were able to meet new people in our fledgling ‘Workplace Metaverse’, get back an important chunk of our non-verbal communication via avatars (that’s most of how we communicate as humans — just saying), and do drive-by hellos to new staff and teammates we hadn’t seen in a while, regardless of geography. It felt like physical, but was entirely digital. We were together even though we weren’t together.

And lo and behold — we started to feel closer as a team. We felt more productive. We onboarded and integrated new staff far more effectively. We felt more empowered as a team. And no surprise, it turns out that teams who are empowered, connected to each other, and productive not only feel better day to day, but they get great work done, they’re happier at work, they’re far less likely to leave, and they ultimately help drive stronger business results.

After seeing these benefits happen by simply using the thing we built, we immediately nixed Zoom, and are close to doing the same with Slack.

The birth of SoWork

And this was the birth of you-centric, avatar-based Social, Online Work for us. We shortened this to ‘SoWork’, and we’d never in a million years go back. It’d be bad for us as individual humans, it’d be bad for us as a team, and it’d be bad for business.

And fortunately, it seems to be resonating with teams all over the world. We now see so many teams working together in the SoWork Metaverse, spending entire full-time work-weeks building, growing, and accomplishing goals together. We hear from them that the deepness of their teammate bonds are growing again. They have their own agency and autonomy back. They connect with new teammates like never before. And they have no interest in ‘going back to the office’. Because if you ask them, they’re already there.

Look, if all that company leaders know are the existing noisy, fatiguing, unidimensional workplace communication tools that were not purpose-built for our new distributed world, then of course they’ll want to go back to physical buildings. I don’t blame them for thinking that. But I’m here to tell you that there’s a better way. For you, your team, and the planet.

It’s the Workplace Metaverse.

CEO, SoWork

This piece is the first of a 3-part Series. Read ‘Part II: Work Today Doesn’t Work’ here, and ‘Part III: Building a Workplace that Works for Everyone’ here.