The Future of Work and the Metaverse: a Recon with Mark Curtis (Fjord, Accenture)
When Mark Curtis started his first digital marketing agency as early as 1993, he quickly understood that technology would have an ever more profound influence on how we live and work. Today, Mark is a thought leader, working on the intersection of design, technology and humans. He coleads the Metaverse & Business group at consultancy firm Accenture. Clients knock on his door a lot these days: “I’ve never seen so much interest in one single word.”
What is the metaverse? And should my company cherish any ambitions there? In a nutshell, those are the two phases of awareness Mark’s clients pass through. Even if the metaverse is not just one thing – as this interview will tell you – it’s good to start with a vital question:
Mark, will I be able to buy shoes in the metaverse?
“I’m sure you will. But the better question to ask is: how will the metaverse affect shopping? Everytime a new medium emerges, companies start out by copying processes used on more mature media, and then discover what the new medium could actually be used for. But I do think that the Apparel and Fashion industries will be very active in the metaverse. They quickly understood that it could be a place where people want to go to express themselves and that identity will play a major role.”
What other industries are probable pioneers?
“Banks for one. The metaverse will challenge our current way of valuing and paying for products and services. Crypto, Web3 and metaverse could be seen as a joint movement. Banks should at least consider being present in the metaverse. Then there’s retail of course. Definitely hospitality too. Life Sciences and Automotive are also moving ahead with use-cases.”
But it would be a mistake to only think of the metaverse as one virtual mall?
“Yes, for two reasons. First, the metaverse isn’t just one thing or space. It’s a continuum. It runs from physical, but augmented reality up to virtual reality at the other end of the spectrum and anything in between. Second, we see at least as much potential for enterprise applications as for consumer applications. The way a product design process is shaped, supply chain management, manufacturing, and so one. Many systems will be disrupted and shaped anew. Also, in the metaverse, you can break the laws of chemistry, physics and biology. Imagine what that can mean for new product or service development.”
A profound change in how to lead companies
Will we be working in the metaverse? And will it influence how we work?
“I absolutely believe we will be working in the metaverse. But at Accenture, we don’t believe that the future involves working for 8 hours every day in the metaverse with a headset on. This wouldn’t be much fun, would it. Again, we should think of it as a continuum. The metaverse could be just you looking at 3D models in an augmented reality setting, while you’re in a remote workshop with people at the other end of the world. And there will definitely be new kinds of jobs, anything related to digital product or service development for instance.”
What opportunities arise for HR leaders?
“Meet-ups and events in the metaverse will become a powerful instrument to create a sense of community and to interact without travelling. Business travel will continue to decline unless we create a carbon-free aeroplane tomorrow. One step further, for globally organised companies, is onboarding. At Accenture, we’ve created a virtual campus called One Accenture Park. We use it to welcome and onboard around 150,000 people in their first week with us. In One Accenture Park, they get to work and play together, discover the company and so one. This is a project our clients are very interested in as well.”
We won’t be working for 8 hours every day in the metaverse, with a headset on. This wouldn’t be much fun, would it.”
“Collaboration is a third promising field. We did a major project for the World Economic Forum, developing a vision of how people working all over the globe could collaborate to solve world problems. We called it the Global Collaboration Village. We gave a demo to 300 world leaders. They all intuitively understood the potential. For another project in Brazil, we illustrated in virtual reality what it’s like to live in favelas. Better-off kids could easily grasp what inequality means. But with the same technology, the social entrepreneur with whom we worked could show how easy it can be to transform these favelas into decent housing.”
“And last but not least and this has been around for a while now: training. Engineers for instance can study remotely with a digital twin. But this brings me to an important consideration in the longer term: when the concept of digital twins meets the potential of the metaverse, company leaders will discover profound new ways of looking at their organisation and how to manage it.”
What should HR professionals focus on today to be prepared for the disruptive force of the metaverse?
“I think all of our systems will change profoundly. Especially the way people form and engage with networks. Combined with the effect of crypto, it will have an impact on how our participation in work, projects and organisations is measured and paid for. But also because of the places we imagine ourselves to be, and the identities we wish to hold when we go there. So if I were in HR, I would be looking at how networks across the organisation are formed. Informal networks matter a great deal.”
You curate the world famous annual Fjord Trends report. Can you give our readers a scoop of the 2023 edition?
“Forgive me, but I can’t. Not because I don’t want to or am not allowed to, but simply because we haven’t started putting it together yet. But one of the items will certainly be the intertwining of AI and creativity. I’ll keep you posted!”
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