Tech majors such as Microsoft and Facebook owner Meta are investing heavily in virtual-reality (VR) and the immersive virtual world of the metaverse, the technology isn’t yet ready for widespread use in the workplace, according to a new study. The study showed that people working full-time in a VR environment have lower productivity and well-being, and increased anxiety – which in turn could have big implications for the future of work.
The study, conducted by researchers from a number of European institutions including Coburg University (Germany) and Cambridge University (UK), compared the experiences of 16 university staff who spent a 35-hour workweek in normal, physical office spaces, and another week doing the same work in virtual reality.
The researchers wrote that working in VR for a week resulted in “significantly worse ratings across most measures” for participants, particularly in terms of health effects and productivity.
Employees’ anxiety over their job also increased by 19% when working in the metaverse, while their perception of their workload grew by 35% relative to the week spent in a physical office, despite researchers ensuring that workloads in the virtual and physical workweeks were similar, said the study.
Additionally, workers reported their “frustration” with being unable to complete work in a timely or efficient manner increased by 42% while in VR, while self-reported productivity fell by 16%.
The adverse effects working in the metaverse or VR space were not limited to just mental health. A prolonged time spent in virtual reality spaces could aggravate symptoms linked to digital eyestrain, including blurry vision, and dry eyes, besides, headaches, visual fatigue, and nausea. One participant reported a headache that lasted three hours after 45 minutes of intense work, and two employees even dropped out of the study on the first day due to feeling extreme nausea, anxiety, and severe migraines, as well as discomfort with the VR headset.
An April 2022 study conducted by IT consulting major Accenture said that 71% of executives believe the metaverse will have a positive impact on their organization's growth, with 42% saying it will be “transformational.”
However, with severe health effects still being observed in users, it may be a while before these applications in the office become popular, said the study authors. They suggested that a hybrid working schedule split between the metaverse and the real world may be the best option to conserve productivity if employees are getting used to working in virtual reality.
The researchers also recommended that it is important that employees are provided with the best or most comfortable VR technology by design. This can only happen when prices of VR headsets go down and these VR apparatuses become mainstream.