How Meta is redesigning the way its distributed employees work together

For most companies, figuring out what workplace model best suits their workforces and organizational needs will be an ongoing process of trial and error that will iterate over the next few years. Meta is no exception.

Unlike its big-tech counterparts Apple and Google, Meta is pushing forward with its remote, decentralized working model. In March many of its senior leadership team reportedly spread out to work from a range of locations beyond its Silicon Valley headquarters including New York, Hawaii, the U.K. and Israel.

That’s a strategy that won’t be without its headaches. But Meta’s senior leadership is laser-focused on ironing out any inevitable kinks.

Establishing what different challenges occur for distributed teams versus teams that are physically together in one office location is a priority. And finding the right balance between in-person and remote work will require some experimentation.

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in September 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

How to fix the metaverse’s sexual harassment problem (and make ‘metawork’ a reality)

Since Meta – the tech titan formerly known as Facebook – revealed last year that it would invest heavily in the metaverse, there has been massive enthusiasm about the possibilities of this nascent technology, not least in a future-of-work capacity. 

Indeed, at the end of July, a study by Grand View Research predicted the booming metaverse market will reach $6.8 trillion by 2030. However, alarming recent data indicates that almost two-thirds of adults believe metaverse technologies will enable sexual harassment.

national tracking poll by business-intelligence company Morning Consult, published in March, found that 61% of 4,420 U.S. adults were concerned about this specific subject. Women seem most worried about it, with 41% of female respondents saying they have “major” concerns, compared to 34% of males. 

The same research showed that 79% of adults are worried about the tracking and misuse of personal data in the metaverse. Add in the numerous articles written about people’s personal experiences of harassment in the metaverse, and it’s clear there is a deep-rooted trust issue that business leaders should consider before funding metaverse worlds for employees, whether onboarding staff, hosting events, or meetings.

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in August 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Which tech has the greatest potential to transform banking?

A whole array of emerging technologies could grant a crucial edge to banks that can apply them successfully. How do their innovation specialists go about finding a winning combination?

In the long shadow of the 2007-08 global financial crisis, concurrent advances in three technologies – smartphones, 4G cellular networks and cloud computing – sparked an explosion of innovation in financial services. Their convergence enabled mobile banking: the sector’s most significant development in generations.

Just over a decade later, the industry is again “on the cusp of another inflexion point”. That’s the belief of Prakash Pattni, MD of digital transformation at IBM Cloud for Financial Services. He predicts that progress in tech including 5G, blockchain, artificial intelligence and quantum computing will trigger “another spurt” of innovation. 

“People talk about data being the new oil,” Pattni says. “Well, blockchain is the new oil rig, and AI is the new refinery. The coming together of these things makes it an exciting time to be part of the industry.” 

Given that R&D is notoriously costly and success is never guaranteed, how do banks approach experimenting with tech that might just as easily fall by the wayside as revolutionise their industry? 

As head of innovation, global functions, at HSBC, Steve Suarez is particularly well qualified to answer this. He believes that the secret to successful innovation is to stay focused on “how to make things cheaper, faster and frictionless for people”. The bank is “constantly scanning the horizon to see how we can apply new technologies. We want to gather data that enables us to personalise banking and give our customers what they need, quickly but also securely.”

The London-based American applies what he calls a “three horizon” approach to innovation. Horizon one concerns “the stuff that we already know well and will incrementally improve things in the short term. Horizon two, which is about two or three years from now, concerns technologies that are fairly new to the industry – blockchain, for instance. We look at how we can provide use cases with these to make the bank better.” 

He continues: “And then there is horizon three, which is about the long shots. Right now, they include the metaverse and quantum computing, which could turn out to be a game-changer for financial services.” 

The possibility that a horizon-three punt might come off is clearly exciting to Suarez, but he’s careful not to get too preoccupied with the potential benefits of such tech. 

“We’re all betting on these technologies to achieve an advantage. There are huge opportunities, but we also need to look at the risks from a security perspective and work out how we might need to structure ourselves,” he says. “As we process 1.5 trillion transactions a day, we understand our great responsibility to protect all customers.”

HSBC’s recent horizon-three R&D activities have included hiring experts in quantum computing and announcing a three-year collaboration with IBM to explore applications for this nascent tech and so ensure its “organisational readiness” to take full advantage of it. 

The bank has also bought a plot of virtual real estate in an online gaming space called The Sandbox, marking its first significant foray into the metaverse. 

People talk about data being the new oil. Well, blockchain is the new oil rig and AI is the new refinery

The term ‘metaverse’ was coined by sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash. He was referring to a digital realm in which humans, avatars and software programs could interact and where property could be purchased. Suarez indicates that HSBC intends to stay loyal to Stephenson’s original meaning. 

“We will be building on our plot, putting in virtual stadiums and working out how to better serve our customers,” he says, hinting that the bank might seek to engage with sports and e-sports fans in the metaverse.

Jehangir Byramji is senior innovation manager and fintech lead at Lloyds Banking Group. He also revels in exploring potentially transformative emerging tech and “analysing weak signals from other markets and regions that the bank can use in the future”. 

Byramji’s approach is slightly different from that of Suarez, though. He organises the bank’s IT innovation work into three broad categories: data; AI (particularly machine learning); and Web3 (tech based on decentralised systems such as blockchains) and the metaverse. 

“On the data pillar, there’s this whole idea of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ identities. Younger people are more worried about losing their social media profile than their passport,” he says. “They are more likely to embrace machine-to-machine payments. As a bank, you therefore need to think about non-traditional ways of processing their data.” 

In this category he also places digital twins – virtual representations of real entities “to help you understand both your own organisation and its customers and clients”.

But Byramji is most enthused by the latest developments in machine learning. “You’re going to see more intelligent agents, just as much in the physical world as in the data realm,” he says, adding that the internet of things will play a key role in this field. “Some of our clients have connected factories or farms – the latest combine harvesters are covered in sensors, for instance – so we’re asking how we can use the data these smart machines gather in an intelligent way and work with clients to better serve them.”

Given the sheer range of possibilities, banks must remain focused on use cases that are most likely to benefit the customer, Byramji stresses. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time, money and effort. 

“We’re starting to see quite gimmicky AI, with deep-fake videos and things like that,” he says. “While they are interesting developments, we have to remember our first principle: better serve our customers.”

That said, Byramji can’t help but be fascinated by the longer-term potential offered by Web3. 

“Banks are unpicking blockchain technologies more effectively than they did a few years ago. We are starting to understand smart contracts and other capabilities that minimise risk and build trust,” he reports. “With these related technologies, I think we can form relationships with fintech firms, build ecosystems, develop new markets and unlock some exciting opportunities.”

This article was first published in Raconteur’s Future of Banking report in May 2022

Why more companies are sending new hires straight to the metaverse for improved onboarding

What will you learn on your first day at work in the metaverse? 

This year, some 150,000 joiners will begin their careers at Accenture in the company’s virtual campus, called the Nth Floor, according to Allison Horn, the company’s executive director of global talent, based in Washington DC.

The Nth Floor is where new hires and existing Accenture staff “can have a more immersive experience for learning and networking,” said Jon Ayres, U.K. managing director for talent and organization at the company. It is one of a growing list of examples showcasing how employers are using pioneering technology to attract and retain top talent. 

Given the tussle for top talent and the need for greater connection with colleagues in the age of hybrid working, Ayres predicts that companies will “experiment with new technology so employees can collaborate in a more meaningful way, which will advance the virtual working tools used widely today.” His statement is supported by new McKinsey research, published mid-June, which calculates metaverse spending will hit $5 trillion by 2030.

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in June 2022 – to read the complete piece please click HERE.

Mojitos in the metaverse? More companies take to hosting team happy hours via virtual reality headsets

Before the pandemic, U.S. marketing agency The Starr Conspiracy’s employees would enjoy Olympic-like competitions in the office car parks and revel in regular in-person, happy-hour meetings. However, with the fun tap turned off by the coronavirus-induced restrictions, company bosses sensed disconnection and isolation were growing for remote-working staff. So they reached for virtual reality headsets.

Now, all 72 employees have Oculus Quest 2s, which cost about $300 per set, and join in for happy hours and quiz nights in the metaverse. But, aside from the obvious practical issues — it’s hard first to locate and then swig a mojito while wearing an obstructive plastic mask — will employees swallow such activities, and can they genuinely re-engage staff?

This article was first published on DigiDay’s WorkLife platform in February 2022 – to continue reading please click here.