Work in the metaverse: What should HR prepare for?

It won't be long before work in the metaverse becomes part of daily life, according to some predictions. But this does have implications for HR policies and processes, as Alex Farrell-Thomas and Olivia Sinfield explain.

As hybrid working is fast becoming a daily reality, a blended approach of real and virtual interaction is set to accelerate as more organisations embrace the metaverse.

The metaverse comprises a mix of virtual platforms where people can meet, work and socialise, and commencing work as an avatar may at this point seem inconceivable to many. But most of us would have struggled to imagine that hybrid working and meetings via video platforms could become the norm.

If work in the metaverse is to evolve to a point where you could be fighting a dragon one minute and sitting down for your morning meeting with your colleagues the next (with or without that dragon) - what are the risks that employers should be wary of?

We think there are three main considerations.

1. Health implications

With video games, social media and the internet already associated with addictive behaviour and mental health issues, it's little surprise that some are concerned about the health implications of the metaverse.

The World Health Organisation Europe has acknowledged that the metaverse is a challenge from a health perspective.

If people spend much of their day immersed in a convergence of reality, virtual reality and augmented reality, employers will need to be mindful of the impact that this could have on employee health.

UK employers have a duty to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of all employees.

No matter where people work (virtual or otherwise), employers have a legal duty to assess risks in the workplace, not just in terms of assessing potential hazards and physical safety, but also promoting good working practices.

Research still needs to be done to understand potential health implications of the metaverse.

Some have even suggested that work in the metaverse may alleviate the screen fatigue and mental health issues associated with the isolation of remote working because interaction in the metaverse is more akin to the human connection that we experience from working and collaborating in person.

Meanwhile, it will be important for employers to encourage employees to carve out time in their diaries for proper breaks (including getting outside) and take annual leave.

Regular catch ups and check ins, whether as a team or on an individual basis, should assist employers with identifying any potential health issues early on.

2. Employee monitoring

Monitoring is likely to be a consideration for employers concerned about the conduct of employees in the metaverse - how can employers keep track of their employees in an alternative and unfamiliar world?

Any monitoring will need to be balanced against the right to privacy of employees and as such, any monitoring will need to be proportionate. The intrusive nature of monitoring in the metaverse - which could involve the processing of physiological responses and biometric data - may make it difficult to justify.

The implied term of mutual trust and confidence will also be a relevant consideration for UK employers as monitoring of employees in the metaverse could risk placing an employer in breach of this duty, depending on the circumstances, which could give a qualifying employee a claim for constructive unfair dismissal.

Employers contemplating monitoring employees in the metaverse should undertake a data protection impact assessment.

Legitimately justified, robust electronic communications / acceptable use policies will also play an important part in setting ground rules for employees in the metaverse.

3. Harassment

Harassment in the metaverse has already attracted press attention, including one woman reporting being groped by a stranger in a virtual space, so employers will naturally be concerned of risks to their own staff.

The law will inevitably have some catching up to do as the metaverse develops, but employers can be one step ahead and consider what they deem to be appropriate behaviour between employee avatars and what could warrant disciplinary action.

Training and upskilling employees on how to work in the metaverse may become a necessity. Employers should consider incorporating guidance on what is acceptable conduct.

Training and policies should be clear on the consequences of failure to comply with the employer's rules for work in the metaverse. And that's before companies consider the cost of providing employees with virtual reality goggles and motion capture gloves.

What is certain is that the metaverse will reshape the future of work. Time to fight that dragon, anyone? It could be the office stress reliever we all need.