The world in which we live and work saw an unprecedented level of transformation in the past year during the COVID pandemic. Through it all, we’re still striving to innovate.  Technology took center stage solving many new challenges when employees started working remotely. Within the first several months of the pandemic, we built our home office space, upgraded our cameras and microphones, hung guitars in the background next to the shelf of our favorite books, and placed a few pieces of art on the wall.  Many of us also managed to become teachers to our children and took the opportunity to adopt a new pet, or simply spend more time with our families.

Collaboration platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Cisco WebEx saw an overnight surge in adoption and usage.  Businesses and departments were heavily  impacted and had to quickly  innovate and adapt for business continuity.  The push to work from home in early 2020 resulted in a reported 47% increase in productivity for employers. Today, employees jump on calls, share their screens and have become mute-button-ninjas. And they’re  continuing to work and solve problems with their co-workers who might have taken the opportunity to relocate or who have jumped in the car and worked from the beach or a park -- enjoying nature off-hours.

While this might be the current reality, the new future of our work is still coming at a fast pace and it’s time to get ready.

Remote work is still at a peak as we exit the worst of this pandemic. But for many, working from home is less than inspirational. An Airtasker Report stated that 70% of people rank their social relationships equally as important as getting work done. The lack of social interaction and an in-person community has impacted many psychologically. Workers had to learn new ways to balance work, health and well-being.

An increased number of employers are warming up to the idea of allowing employees to continue to work in a hybrid workplace model. In this model, employees have flexibility to work from home, the office, a state park, a local coffeeshop or even a vacation destination. There also has been a surge in digital virtual worlds where the next generation of workforce thrives. Think Minecraft, Roblox, Second Life, and Fortnite – with 100s of millions of active users engaged and where creativity, community and commerce are driving the success of these platforms.   

The blend of the current workforce and the virtual world is just the beginning of a much larger movement of the hybrid worker. It is more commonly referred to as The Metaverse.

The Metaverse (made up of the prefix “Meta” meaning beyond, and “verse” from universe) is the convergence of a virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space. This includes the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the Internet. To simplify, Metaverse is a three-dimensional virtual reality world (or in this case, virtual workspace) in which many people (including employees and customers) exist simultaneously -- an online world (office space) to hang out in (or work, you get the gist). Imagine throwing on digital eyewear, instead of hopping on that conference bridge. “Work From Home” becomes “Work from The Metaverse” where collaboration tools are enhanced by 3D, AR/VR, and spatial audio. And when it’s time for community and social interaction, you meet by the online watercooler for a quick sync, eat in the digital lunchroom and go to happy hour in the virtual pub.

Technology used in this way can promote an environment where employees are empowered to contribute, creatively accomplish work as a team, make decisions and deliver productivity while creating a sense of community. In the words of Mo Katibeh, who leads AT&T’s Network Infrastructure and Build: “Connectivity is the glue that will bind everyone and everything, together. Collaboration and innovation don't need to falter and human connections don't need to be lost. Organization leaders who are purposeful in enabling a connected culture are a step ahead.” At its core, solutions such as high speed and low latency connectivity, distributed cloud, EDGE compute and 5G in support of xR experiences are key to delivering the future of the hybrid work experience.

AT&T is not waiting for the future to start, we are helping shape it. The AT&T Ecosystem Innovation Team is working with small businesses and enterprises to help enable technologies and solutions for the day after tomorrow by building an ecosystem of collaborators that will empower solutions such as The Metaverse.

Get ready for the next few years and remember to refresh your Avatar and own it - regardless of the world you participate in at any moment in time, anywhere in our universe.