Manifesto for Working in the Metaverse

Matthew Ball says: “The Metaverse is a massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds which can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence, and with continuity of data, such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications, and payments.”

If we had known about the pandemic two or three years before it hit, what would we have changed about the way we work? What choices would we have made in the 90’s if we knew then, what we know now about the ubiquitous impact of technology on the way we work and live? How it influences what we think and choose. The various ways it steers our mindset and shapes our choices as we interact with one another, raise our kids, consume content, and create. How it is changing the way we collaborate and share. It’s ‘by design’ ability to control the way we behave, feel, and work. What would you do differently?

We have been reflecting on where we have been and what we have learned collectively, over these last two decades. We’ve been especially focused on the unprecedented years we’ve navigated between 2020 and today and the way those years have redefined work.

Which choices have failed us? Which ones have left us better? What have we learned as we consider our humanity, priorities, and habits? How about our health, values, relationships, and overall state of wellbeing? We’re devoting a great deal of time to taking stock of work and workplace culture. Thinking deeply about how we’ve changed and the condition of the 2022 workplace as we teeter on the precipice of yet another technological dimension- the metaverse. Working in this dimension is closer than you may realise.

March of 2020 amplified how unprepared we were for working 100% virtually. Aside from learning how to navigate the isolation of working alone, finding quiet places where we could focus and wrestle with the logistics of powering up, we had to learn a new set of interpersonal skills and behaviours in order to be effective. We had to understand how to engage with new tech tools and rely on them to help us keep our wheels of business turning. We were at the mercy of these tools to consistently be available, work as promised and keep us safe.

In the absence of legislation, proper security and intentionality around creating best practices for the virtual workday and rules for what was acceptable and unacceptable, we experienced interruption and far worse. In the wake of Zoom bombings, cyber bullying, and increased distraction we were left scrambling to figure out how to work and keep ourselves safe. We found ourselves between the proverbial rock and hard place.

Along the way, we declined. While the tech platforms and tools supplied the perfect setting for new opportunities, they also provided environments for nefarious behaviour, misogyny, racism, sexism, hatred and bullying. Without preparedness and balance in our workdays, we adopted poor habits that have caused us to become hyperconnected, hyper stressed, overworked, lonely and unwell.

Working in our virtual world has made it easy for us to forget that behind the screens, we are human. In Douglas Abrams’, The Book of Joy, he beautifully cites Dr. Richard Harrison’s work that found we are born to be compassionate, collaborative, generous and focused. In spite of our innate goodness, workplace bullying is on the rise. The 2021 WBI US Workplace Bullying Survey found nearly 50 million Americans are bullied at work. A survey of 2,000 UK workers found that 23% of the British workforce has experienced bullying and a full quarter (25%) have been made to feel left out in the workplace.

The State of Workplace Harassment 2021 report found “nearly 38% of employees still experience harassment remotely, through email, video conferencing, chat apps or by phone.” If we want to thrive, work effectively and experience success, we must invest time in understanding where the intersection of our lack of preparedness, poor choices and non-existent accountability of the tech giants have converged to allow these damaging outcomes to be prevalent.

As we secured the tactical skills to adapt to work during the pandemic, in our hyperconnected state, we became deficient in compassion, generosity, collaboration and focus. We were connected online but disconnected offline. We grew more socially anxious as each day passed. The mindset, focus, interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, diplomacy and day to day etiquette we need to successfully engage, relate, create, collaborate, support one another and work in virtual environments took a backseat to adaptation. We are suffering mentally, physically and socially because of our choices and lack of choices, alike.

Over the last two years, our mental and physical health have declined significantly:

  • Depression, isolation, loneliness, stress, anxiety and workplace burnout have reached global epidemic levels. Loneliness and stress related absenteeism alone contribute to $154 billion in losses for business every year
  • Maintaining balance between our work lives and personal lives is becoming increasingly more difficult thanks to our ability to work from anywhere and everywhere
  • Poor work habits combined with our expectations for instantaneous responses from one another leave us little time to be still, creative and think
  • The technology initially designed to give us time to be more human by offloading mundane and repetitive tasks, has made it easier for us to work even longer hours than we did pre-pandemic

Now, we’re facing a new host of challenges with the hybrid workplace.

  • Learning on the fly. Adapting, leading, collaborating, innovating, relating, and staying healthy amid pressures to compete, innovate, deliver successfully against business goals have us reeling
  • Toggling between worlds has many of us struggling. In a quest to find balance, continuity and understanding between our physical workplaces and our remote workplaces, we are still having a tough time- two years later
  • Absence of a roadmap. Many leaders are reverting to muscle memory. Antiquated and traditionally held command and control behaviours are contributing to employee unrest, organisational instability, fractured workplace cultures, low engagement, and the exodus of the talented people they rely on to succeed
  • A lack of attention where we need it most. Where we are working is less significant than how we are working. Shifting the focus away from location and placing it on how we engage with one another at work will be the recipe for success today and as we move forward

Work is more complex than ever. The traditional corporate practices, values and reward systems that have made so many companies profitable are clashing with emerging expectations for work. As post pandemic employees, we have a heightened sense of awareness of what we need and want in exchange for the 8+ hours per day we dedicate to our jobs and careers.

  • Shorter work weeks in healthy and supportive environments are no longer nice to have. They are a must.
  • We want to work with greater purpose and clarity.
  • We want to be valued and fairly compensated for the work we do. We want to work for organisations that are creating positive social impact.
  • We want to have flexibility when it comes to where, when, and how we work because we know working from anywhere is possible.
  • Working for leaders who prioritise people and balance is top of mind.
  • We want to be able to work kind and thrive.

Indisputable parallels exist between the industrial revolution and the technology revolution. Both afforded us unimaginable innovation, efficiency and productivity. The downside during both eras, is this. As our reliance on machines and technology grew, we became more commoditised. The differentiation between humans and machines became blurred. This is just as much the fault of our values, choices, and priorities as it is a product of technology itself.

Striking a balance between the old ways of working and this new era of work is challenging. It requires time to let go of the past and adopt new habits that rework the neural pathways that control our behaviours. But, if we want to succeed and more importantly thrive as we look forward, we must invest in nurturing the very soul of business. We must work kind:

  1. Create supportive workplace environments where people can thrive.
  2. Ensure every person has the skills and tools they need to be effective.
  3. Place attention and intention around how we use technology at work and understand the role it plays in our interpersonal relationships and wellbeing.

A recent MIT article in Sloan Review shared this powerful statement: “Neuroscience research has found that only in-person interactions trigger the full suite of physiological responses and neural synchronization required for optimal human communication and trust-building, and that digital channels such as videoconferencing disrupt our processing of communicative information. Such impoverished virtual interactions can lead to static and siloed collaboration networks, workers with a diminished sense of belonging to their organization, and social and professional isolation.”

In order to thrive in the workplace, we must work kind. We must learn how to prioritise our real-life experiences against our reliance on technology. We must learn how to work with balance and choose leaders who model and insist on these things because they understand their importance.

Who will be accountable as we look forward?

Our intent is not to demonise or blame technology. But rather to hold the leaders of the largest tech firms accountable for the choices they have made that have made it so easy for us to blindly go along and entrust them to do the right thing; to hold them accountable for taking every measure possible to preserve and amplify the best of our humanity- to leave us better.

The Social Dilemma featured several former execs from Google, Facebook and Twitter who realised the importance of accountability. As they reflected on what they would have done differently had they known what they learned years later, they unanimously shared immense remorse for their actions.

The reality is the tech giants who own the platforms and apps we rely on for work, have no real incentive to create legislation that will keep us safe. They are drawing billions of dollars in exchange for harvesting and selling our data and keeping us engaged for as many hours as possible. Did you know more than 72 million data points are collected on your kids by the time they reach their 13th birthday? According to long-time tech reporter, Jeffrey Fowler, the tech giants not only know, but they have found loopholes to get around the minimal legislation we do have in place, and they are profiting at our expense in record numbers.

Wide-sweeping legislation is needed but it doesn’t exist yet. The challenges we are facing are still relatively new and they are extremely complex. Whistle blowers have sacrificed their own careers and wellbeing to hold these companies accountable. The big four, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook, have all testified before the House Judiciary Committee here in the U.S. In every case, when pushed to create long term solutions, they pushed to protect the right to govern themselves. In 2022, we are still devoid of the legislation required to give us the control we need to keep us, our privacy and data safe.

The job of the tech giants is to keep us engaged and their algorithms are designed with that end goal in mind. The technologies we rely on for collaboration and continuity at work (and otherwise) are designed to make sure they are successful. Study Finds reported the average person will spend an unbelievable 44 years of their lives looking at digital devices. Excessive screen time at work is degrading our mental, physical, and societal health.

Our devices have become so engrained in our lives that we rarely give thought to how we use them. We have taken these advancements for granted and blindly placed our trust in the hands of the tech companies to leave us better. Without accountability, they will continue to design, create, harvest and sell as they have. We will continue to consume as we do. The common denominator in both cases is choice.

These companies hold an unfathomable amount of power. They are some of the wealthiest companies in the world in both money and data. These are the very same companies creating the metaverse. The platform of the future. A new parallel world where we will meet, vend and buy goods, get educated, socialise and work.

Preparation is vital.

This world will present us with great opportunities and even greater challenges. If we draw from our lessons of recent years, we can understand that we cannot be truly free or safe without rules. Points of accountability are critical. The metaverse holds the same possibilities for the damaging behaviours so many millions have experienced such as cyber bullying, sexism, racism and fraud. Excessive connection will lead to further isolation, loneliness, depression, anxiety, overwork and burnout. At the same time, the metaverse holds possibilities for us to, again, surprise ourselves and realise unimaginable possibilities- together. Choice, personal accountability and awareness will ultimately determine where we land.

We can draw from the wisdom we have gained. Instead of hoping for the best or blindly going wherever the technology takes us, we can invest time now preparing foundations for how we will engage and thrive in the metaverse.

  • What habits will we adopt for ourselves to protect our health, deepen our relationships and support all of the incredible qualities that make us most human? To minimise distraction and maximise our own clarity?
  • What choices can we begin to make right now to reduce stress, anxiety and loneliness? To ensure we strike more balance between work and life?
  • How can we work kind and use it for good to create better and heal the planet?

How we work has always been and will always be the ultimate indicator of how we work together, regardless of medium or location. The habits, choices, language, and behaviours we adopt, and share dictate the experiences we have and the outcomes we create. Our choices will define the future of work.

We at The Kindness Corporation believe we have the power to create the world we want. We have every ability to choose how we work, form relationships, adapt, collaborate, innovate and live. We have the power to control our experience. We must be courageous and vulnerable enough to be honest about where we are. We must take personal responsibility for every choice we have made that has led us right here. We must move forward swiftly, with passion, intelligence and fierce determination, with the benefit of hindsight. We must create a path forward which refuses to accept anything less from the tech giants than accountability, kindness, and transparency.

As we move forward, we move with intention and purpose by creating a manifesto for working in the metaverse. The time to do this is now- before the standards for working in the metaverse are defined for us by those who have the most to gain.

We are committed to doing everything we possibly can to make sure we get things more right than we did in the 90’s and 2000’s. Specifically:

  • To engage and hold accountable, the companies who have the most to gain from the metaverse
  • To require the leaders of these companies, take every measure they can to ensure safe and supportive environments that encourage the very best in us to surface- even when it means realising less revenue as a result
  • To craft the foundations for legislation to ensure technology has its best shot at becoming a force for good
  • To prompt tech companies to consider the impact their products and services have on humanity above profitability
  • To create new standards that ensure we are able to thrive, control and manage our own data
  • To ensure products are designed with security measures which protect every one of us- especially the most vulnerable
  • To create legislation that prevents tech companies from selling our data without our explicit permission
  • To ensure the integrity and safety of our data as the holders of our data
  • To create clearly defined points of individual, corporate and governmental accountability
  • To incorporate values that benefit society
  • To define behaviours which foster, support and prioritise our ability to thrive on individual and societal levels at work and beyond

In partnership with Kahana, a collaboration and knowledge-sharing software platform, we are proud to announce the kick-off of a global coalition to create the Manifesto for Working in the Metaverse Project. Our two companies share a passion for building a future with kindness at its core. To support the coalition, Kahana is currently in the process of developing an open-source knowledge base of information about the future of work and the metaverse to provide a space for everyone to learn and contribute.

With your help, the Kahana repository will ultimately supply the collective insight that will lead to the manifesto. A guiding document intended to:

  • Create a global definition for how we work in the metaverse
  • Serve as a guidepost which calls the tech companies to their highest good
  • Lead individuals in our governing bodies one step closer to creating accountability legislation with the purpose of protecting us, honouring our privacy and giving us control over our data

This is a global social mission owned and powered by all. Your ideas are welcomed, and everyone is invited to contribute. The Kahana repository is nearly ready. In the meantime, you can share your thoughts with us here: www.themetaversecoalition.com

Of course, the challenges we are facing are unprecedented and complex. They will take time to solve. The opportunities are exciting. By working together, we can create better and when someone in twenty years asks us, “What would we have done differently? We’ll be able to proudly say, “We worked together with intention to do the most good possible.”

Wherever you work, please #workkind
Cole & Magnus