Metaverse and the future of work

It is the buzzword, undoubtedly the most talked-about word of the moment: Metaverse. Day in and day out, companies of all kinds announce their landing in this dystopia -supposedly- come true. From the world of fashion to real estate, from retail to automotive, they all announce their intention to find their virtual place in this parallel reality.

Criticism is levelled at the context of its presentation – a company subject to very strong stock market, regulatory and ethical pressure, amidst accusations of monopoly, user bleeding and disregard for hate speeches -, its lack of originality – Second Life, its computer social, dates back two decades, dates from two decades ago-, the suspicions of a speculative bubble -the real estate operations managed are estimated in hundreds of millions- and its demonstrable insubstantiality -yes, everybody talks about it, but the worldwide audience of the Metaverse, nowadays, is smaller than the population of Albacete-.

As almost always in these cases, innovation entails not inconsiderable labor implications. In fact, in its keynote presentation, the concept of working in the Metaverse is taken for granted on several occasions, without anyone applying a critical spirit to it.

The first implication of working in the Metaverse is the geographical scope

A virtual world such as the one proposed does not understand national borders and, therefore, it would put into question such a basic and fundamental concept as the labor standard that would apply to the ‘meta-worker’. If throughout our history we have witnessed fierce conflicts over the working conditions of cross-border workers, imagine what would happen if the work were carried out in an intangible place.

Another term that would be altered is the personal sphere

Inapplicable as we understand it now if the person working is not us, or at least it would not be our image, but a hologram or avatar. Some may think that this is an opportunity to banish stereotypical discrimination based on gender, physical condition, or clothing, but we forget that the solution cannot be to immerse ourselves in a deceptive fiction, where we are not even sure with whom we are interacting.

The organization of work is another unavoidable aspect: such a highly computerized environment invites without remission to the algorithmic assignment of tasks and to the millimetric and continuous monitoring of work activity. Spaces reserved for privacy and personal autonomy would be subjected to computer-controlled productivity.   

The workspace, in theory ethereal, would inevitably be carried out entirely from our homes. We would work in virtual reality helmets or augmented reality glasses, motion-sensing wristbands or dumbbells, pens that capture our handwriting and a whole panoply of electronics that would be the envy of Woody Allen in The Sleeper.

Let’s transfer this scene of a working person at home, sheathed in a digital suit, to the working reality of 2022. A large majority of Spanish companies flatly reject anything that sounds like teleworking, usually because of the associated costs involved. Would these same companies accept to pay the thousands of euros that would cost the infrastructure to work in the Metaverse (high-powered computer, a low-latency and very high-speed Internet connection, plus all the necessary elements to make this virtual and augmented reality possible)?

Another fundamental aspect is related to health and the prevention of accidents and risks. Wearing a virtual helmet means erecting a barrier between the physical limits of our home and the virtual reality that is accessed. This raises doubts that we should clear up before starting to work in the metaverse: does everyone have enough space in their home to be able to move around in this office in the cloud? In case this physical blindness, caused by wearing the virtual helmet, involves a real hit with a wall or a piece of furniture, who would be responsible for the repairs in our home; would it be considered an accident at work?

And what about the psycho-social risks that will undoubtedly arise from working in the Metaverse? If we have not yet been able to articulate an effective right to disconnection, by the mere fact of carrying our office in our mobile, how are we going to exercise such a right in an immersive work environment separated from our materiality? What would be the consequences for our mental health of working our entire working day through a remote and incorporeal self, which no longer has any elements of work socialization or which banishes any vestige of companionship?

The proposal to work in the Metaverse contains obvious dangers: delocalization of the activity, depersonalization of the worker, ‘Digital Taylorism’, algorithmic surveillance, ultra-connectivity linked to severe psycho-social risks and, worst of all, an intentional escape from the salaried relationship model, to turn it into a mercantile relationship (self-employed worker) Does this sound familiar? Yes, it is the same proposal that digital delivery platforms put forward – and some still dare to put forward.

When innovation is diverted from its primary objective, human welfare, it always ends up undermining the rights of working people. We sometimes forget that the Luddite movement, the Communist Manifesto, or the Canadian strike are nothing more than social responses to a technological process that denigrated the human component, until it reached a point of conflict that no one wants, that no one desires, that no one is interested in.

It will once again be up to us, the unions, to contain and redirect the innate temptation exhibited by those – few but powerful – to use innovation for their exclusive benefit. And we will do so as we have done for hundreds of years of history: without falling into the temptation of positioning ourselves as refractory to any technological advance; warning, pointing out and denouncing the dangers that such progress entails; opposing rationally and, if necessary, judicially any attempt to undermine our rights as people and workers; and, finally, ensuring that the benefits of new technologies bring prosperity for all, leaving no one behind.

Would you like to move your business to Metaverse? Contact our experienced team today. Enkronos team waiting for your questions.

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