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Is Coworking in the Metaverse the Future of Flex?

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The metaverse is here to stay, and businesses of all industries are looking for innovative ways to embrace and take advantage of the new trends in web 3.0.

As the freelance and coworking economies continue to grow, and an increasing number of people are working from home or in shared office spaces, coworkers and coworking space businesses wonder how they can enter these virtual worlds.

Virtual reality (VR) can offer several advantages for coworkers and coworking businesses, so, in this post, we’ll look at some of the basics of coworking in the metaverse and highlight how businesses can benefit from this trend.

What is the metaverse?

Facebook’s rebranding to Meta and Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement in 2021 that they would move on to become a metaverse company made headlines and got millions of internet users wondering what it all means.

A metaverse (not the metaverse, as there are more than one) is an enduring virtual world you access through the internet, where people come together to socialize, play, slack around, and, yes, work. It is meant to be a virtual reality experience that will become the new normal in the developing web 3.0.

In short, the metaverse as a concept is the next big leap forward in the way we communicate and interact, promising an immersive, multi-platform-compatible virtual reality where we hang around as 3D digital renderings called avatars and basically live our lives Ready-Player-One style.

Despite what you may think, metaverses aren’t that new. The current state of the arts spawned from online, multiplayer video games like World of Warcraft, Minecraft, and Second Life. All of these platforms fit the definition of a metaverse except for the fact that they’re not fully VR-enabled yet. But that’s all beginning to change.

Three friends working on a computer in a coworking space.

The metaverse’s effect on coworking

The pandemic already changed work for good. The shift to remote work was already underway, but the coronavirus made the transition faster than we could have imagined. At the forefront was Zoom, a company that grew its user base by almost 3,000% and its revenue by over 300% in 2020 alone, reaching a staggering $2.6 billion.

But with hundreds of millions of users meeting on Zoom daily, its drawbacks immediately became apparent. Zoom fatigue started becoming a thing as people yearned for their old office life with water bottle conversations and non-verbal cues that made communication in meetings more effective.

That’s where the metaverse comes into play. By providing an immersive VR experience where we can use hand gestures, hear spatial audio, and see each other across the room, meetings in the metaverse are much more natural than Zoom meetings. This makes the metaverse the new horizon for remote work, and it offers new forms of coworking.

Being a virtual world that you can access from anywhere on the planet, you would think that the metaverse could threaten traditional brick and mortar coworking spaces since people will no longer need to be physically present in the same place to work.

However, the metaverse also offers other potential solutions for new forms of coworking, which I’ll discuss below.

Three ways to approach virtual coworking in the metaverse

So, how exactly will coworking work in the metaverse? As you may imagine, it’ll happen in virtual offices and in virtual coworking spaces where people interact with each other and exchange ideas. Even though most metaverses are still in their infancy, there are three general ways you can do this today.

#1 – Building virtual coworking spaces in existing decentralized metaverses

Decentralized metaverses like Decentraland, Sandbox, and Roblox offer the opportunity to buy virtual real estate and build whatever you want, including virtual offices and coworking spaces. Even though some of these platforms are more gaming-oriented, they’re quickly becoming a profitable space for businesses in different ways.

One of the best things about this option is that, contrary to other company-owned metaverse solutions that I’ll discuss below, these platforms work as decentralized autonomous organizations or DAOs. This means that they’re transparent systems governed by their users and with rules set in stone in the blockchain.

Furthermore, they also work as self-sustaining, crypto-based, virtual economies where you can buy and sell things using Ethereum or other cryptos and literally own your assets thanks to the power of NFTs.

Virtual real estate prices in the metaverse are a common entry barrier for small businesses to set up shop there, which opens the door for virtual coworking space businesses to lease their virtual offices.

Steps to start a virtual coworking space in Decentraland:

If the above business model is something you’re interested in, here are some simple steps to get started. These steps are specific to starting a virtual coworking space in Decentraland, but you can easily adapt them to other metaverses:

  • Step 1: Set up a virtual wallet for your business: Blockchain-based metaverses such as Decentraland rely on cryptocurrencies and other native tokens to power the virtual economy, so you’ll need a crypto wallet to store, pay, and receive payments in these virtual worlds.
  • Step 2: Open an account on a crypto exchange and buy some crypto: Decentraland uses native tokens called MANA to buy/sell land and other assets, and Ethereum to pay the blockchain miners to process transactions, so you’ll need to purchase some crypto before you can take full advantage of the space. If you already have some Bitcoin, you can trade them in for MANA or other tokens in crypto exchanges like Binance or Coinbase, or you can use those same platforms to buy tokens directly with a credit card.
  • Step 3: Set up an account in Decentraland: Once your wallet is set up and funded, you can create an account. This requires linking your wallet, which will serve as your passport in Decentraland.
  • Step 4: Buy some virtual land: Virtual land in Decentraland and other metaverses are expensive, so you’ll probably have to cough up a good $15K worth of Ethereum or more to become a landowner.
  • Step 5: Build your coworking space: Once you have your land, you can use either the platform’s native builder or a third-party 3D design app to build your coworking space and upload the finished 3D models to the platform.
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A virtual coworking space being built by a computer.

The former is the easiest and fastest option, but the latter gives you total creative freedom as well as the chance to brand your space.

  • Step 6: Start your virtual coworking business: you’re now set up so you can begin marketing your service to other businesses and freelancers.

#2 – Standalone virtual workspace solutions for businesses

The easiest and most direct way to access a virtual office where you and other coworkers can get together and start being productive in the metaverse is by using pre-built platforms specifically designed for this purpose.

An image of several team members around a table virtually.

Some of the biggest tech companies in the world, including Meta (formerly Facebook) and Microsoft, already offer their own versions of metaverses for work and collaboration. However, some smaller players are giving them a run for their money.

Some of the most popular metaverse VR office platforms available today are:

  • Microsoft’s Teams/Mesh integration
  • Meta’s Horizon Workrooms
  • Gather
  • Teamflow
  • SoWork

Apple stands out as the biggest tech company that isn’t talking about the metaverse. In fact, its leadership seems to deliberately avoid the term altogether, because they are betting on a mixed reality future instead of a virtual one.

Even so, many experts agree that the metaverse will not be built by a single company but rather by a large group of them, and you can count on more and more businesses offering these services in the future.

#3 – Building virtual coworking spaces from scratch

If total customization is what you’re looking for, another option is to design and create your virtual coworking space within a custom-built virtual world. While this was not a real possibility for small businesses in the past, today, it is fairly easy to do using new and inexpensive (even free, in some cases) 3D design and rendering software.

One of the best solutions today is using the new Unreal Engine 5, an immensely powerful and free software package used to design and build beautiful picture-quality, interactive 3D worlds and animations with drag and drop ease.

An image of a virtual office designed by ZOAN.

Some companies are already using this approach to build their own virtual office buildings where they get together with teammates strewn across the globe.

One example is ZOAN, a B2B VR experience design company that partnered with leading VR headset manufacturer Varjo to create their first in-house virtual office building, depicted in the image above.

A new model: hybrid realverse-metaverse coworking spaces

By now, coworking space startups can probably see the benefits of using virtual coworking in the metaverse as their core business model. However, existing physical coworking space providers can make even better use of this technology to benefit their customers.

One way to do this is through a hybrid business model similar to gaming internet cafes. Your physical coworking spaces can become places where your customers come to enter the metaverse by renting the space, high-end or standard VR headsets, and a high-speed internet connection.

Those who use this service could also access your virtual coworking space to meet with remote team members in the metaverse. Conversely, businesses or freelancers that use your virtual coworking space in the metaverse could earn NFTs as loyalty reward tokens that grant them discounts, free time, or other perks in your physical locations.

The bottom line

Coworking in the metaverse is the next step in the evolution of coworking. It allows coworkers to connect and collaborate with each other in ways that were not possible before. Team members can now work together in virtual spaces, opening new possibilities for creativity and productivity.

In addition, coworking companies can use the metaverse to create virtual versions of their physical locations. This hybrid real-world/virtual world business model can be a powerful tool for attracting new members and increasing profits. If you’re looking for a way to take your coworking business to the next level, consider using the metaverse as part of your strategy.

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About Author

Jordan Bishop is a personal finance expert and travel hacker who holds a degree in finance and entrepreneurship from Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Canada. He is the founder of Yore Oyster and How I Travel, two sites to help optimize your finances while living an international life. He recently published his first book, Unperfect, an exploration of problem solving. Twitter handle: @jrdnbshp

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