SAN FRANCISCO, June 18 ― Advocates of the metaverse imagine a near future in which we will work with a virtual reality headset strapped to our heads. But is it really possible to work in the metaverse? Apparently so, according to a recent study, but it doesn't make us any more productive.

As well as the many promises surrounding the metaverse, this new digital world also raises some uncomfortable questions. One of them concerns our ability to work in this digital double of the physical world. A team of researchers from the Coburg University of Applied Sciences in Germany, the UK's University of Cambridge, the University of Primorska in Slovenia, and Microsoft Research set out to investigate.

They signed up 16 people ― 10 men and six women ― to work in virtual reality for five days. They performed their work tasks in front of a computer, as usual, but with an Oculus Quest 2 headset on their heads. This particular setup had negative effects on their productivity. Participants reported that their self-rated workload increased by 35 per cent during the experiment. Their frustration also soared (+42 per cent), as did their anxiety (+11 per cent).


Mixed impressions

It seems that working with a virtual reality headset on is far from a pleasant experience. The participants in the study had a hard time physically getting used to this immersive tool, which they had to wear for eight hours a day. They experienced severe eye discomfort, headaches, and discomfort from losing their bearings. While these effects diminished over time, two people had to quit before the end of the first day of the experiment due to the virtual reality headset causing them to suffer migraines and nausea.

However, the study authors note that some participants saw benefits to working in the metaverse. The virtual reality headset allows for great concentration, for example. Gone is the ambient hubbub, the multiple interruptions from colleagues or the (tempting) invitations to take a break around the coffee machine. But this total immersion is not to everyone's taste. “Other participants had negative experiences due to this isolation, whether due to a feeling of unease produced by an inability to perceive who is nearby or the obstacles the setup presents for face-to-face collaboration,” reads the study.


Despite these mixed impressions, all the study participants say they would not mind using virtual reality for certain work tasks, or for part of the day. For the researchers, this suggests a future where some professionals will be able to alternate between the physical world and the metaverse depending on the work they have to do. As such, a new world of work could very well be taking shape. ― ETX Studio