While hybrid and flexible working offer many advantages to both employers and their staff, there are downsides too.
One of the biggest is so-called “distance bias”, which refers to the preference everyone has for whatever is closest to them in time and space. In a workplace context, this means that those managers unaware of the phenomenon are likely to demonstrate a positive bias towards employees who are working in the same office as them, which can lead to unconscious discrimination.
Data from the Office for National Statistics confirms this situation. It reveals that people who worked mainly from home during 2012 to 2017 were less than half as likely to be promoted as their office-based colleagues, and were also less likely to benefit from training. Between 2013 and 2020, it was 38% less probable that home workers would receive a bonus.
But 3D immersive communications platform provider PixelMax claims its technology could offer a means of levelling the playing field. In a whitepaper published towards the end of last year, it laid out the idea that the hybrid workplace of the future could take the shape of an always-on, 3D, metaverse-based virtual office where both remote and office workers would interact on an equal footing in real time.
Employees would be represented by avatars that used non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and cryptocurrencies to buy goods and services, and accessed applications, such as Slack or Dropbox, within this virtual space in order to communicate and collaborate. Operating as a platform-as-a-service offering, this virtual office would be based on technology ranging from augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to digital twins and would integrate with third-party tools and applications to create a truly immersive environment.
But as to whether such a concept is likely to take off any time soon, Iain Fisher, director of the Northern European digital strategy and solutions practice at research and advisory firm ISG, is not convinced – although he does believe it could have a role to play in certain, predominantly creative, industries. For instance, he sees computer gaming being a “huge” market, while the immersive nature of the technology means it could appeal to retailers, entertainment providers and advertisers keen to offer new customer experiences.