Can a single phrase capture the key promise that any organization must fulfil? Here’s a shot: It must deliver a great brand experience. Not just to people outside its four walls, but to employees on the inside, too.
Now that imperative is colliding with powerful emerging technologies like generative AI, mixed reality, and immersive virtual spaces. These technologies are set to transform the way billions of people experience the world around them — including the brands and businesses they engage with.
It amounts to a paradigm shift across our experience of everyday life; one as fundamental as the emergence of the mobile internet. But crucially, these changes will rewire expectations when it comes to the employee experience, too. Rising numbers will look to their employers to leverage these emerging technologies to empower them to be their best selves and do their best work.
To retain talent — and to meet ever higher customer and client expectations — organizations will need to respond.
The mainstreaming of AI and mixed reality is set to drive a host of new customer expectations. Two key dimensions? Experiences that are either hyper-convenient or magical.
Augmented reality technologies will mean new ways for brands to be in the right place at the right time. For example, think real-time and geo-relevant alerts and messages: ‘Hey, it looks like you’re heading to the beach; check our our store now for a discount on sunscreen — just follow the arrows!’ It’s a new frontier for on-demand convenience.
Meanwhile, millions are already talking to next-generation AI-powered virtual companions via platforms such as Character.AI. There’s also Meta’s new AI chat companions based on a range of global megastars, including Snoop Dog and Paris Hilton. This shift will fuel expectations that every key brand — bank, mobile provider, grocery store and more — manifests as a virtual entity that customers can speak to like a friend. It’s an entirely new, more natural, and ultimately magical way for customers to access brands.
All these expectation shifts, and many more, are coming. But the consumers and clients who’ll live out those shifts are the same people who step inside offices, factories, labs and fulfilment centers every day to become employees. And now they’ll bring their revised expectations with them.
How will these new expectations manifest when it comes to the employee experience?
Once millions are habitually speaking to AI-powered virtual companions in their everyday lives, they’ll come to expect the same in their working lives, too. We’ll see the rise of AI-powered virtual colleagues based on large language models (LLMs) that are fine-tuned on internal content, data, and frameworks. These new colleagues will be infinitely knowledgeable, available 24/7, and always willing to help.
One example? See global consultancy McKinsey’s new AI-powered Lili, a virtual colleague launched internally earlier this year. Meanwhile, mixed and virtual reality technologies will reshape multiple aspects of the employee experience. These changes can be captured by two key words: Collaboration and culture.
For physically distributed teams — and that means many teams in 2023 — collaboration is currently mediated via the small rectangles that are laptop or PC screens. But an immersive internet will fundamentally reshape that experience.
Need to get together for an all-important review meeting, or to push this year’s killer project over the line? Via AR or VR, colleagues will be able to be ‘in the room’ together even when separated by oceans. No wonder leading consultancy Accenture is experimenting with its own virtual office, called the Nth Floor. Meanwhile, Meta’s Horizon Workrooms — a virtual office and meeting room environment — is being tested by organizations from NASA to PwC.
We’ll also see the rise of next-generation simulations in virtual environments. Like a simulated retail department or factory floor where colleagues can gather virtually ‘in-person’ to experiment with new processes, adapt, and learn.
But the power of mixed reality will extend far beyond even collaboration. We’ll see it transform organizations at the deepest level. That is, at the level of culture. This will play out in ways both small and great.
A great internal culture is forged, in part, via a million small human moments, like the impromptu corridor chat or the shared joke. Remote work and distributed teams makes those moments harder to come by. But as teams become used to spending time in virtual spaces, these forms of human connection will fire back up. That will make for a warmer, more engaging work environment. But also a more productive one; research shows that a constant stream of informal, unstructured communication helps teams become more creative and perform optimally.
Meanwhile, virtual spaces will fuel new employee expectations of truly inclusive access. The busy single father can still join that meeting ‘in-person’ and manage the school run. Neurodiverse employees can design and manage the work environments they need to be at their best. And when all this becomes possible, staff will rightly demand that it is made real.
Look, too, at the way these technologies will push organizations to forge a far more open and democratic culture.
For most organizations, physical distance helps shape a hierarchy of spaces. At the top sit exclusive locations: The global HQ, the boardroom, the aftershow party. For junior staff, access to those spaces is a matter of a lucky introduction, or living in the right city.
Now, via virtual environments, every colleague can have access to the (virtual) sales pitch, boardroom, or afterparty. The CEO can share impromptu post-work drinks with colleagues in any city. And there will be no excuse if it doesn’t happen. At heart, this is about the way virtual spaces empower us to shatter the constraints imposed on us by physical distance.
This has deep implications for the internal culture — for, we might say, the soul — of any organization. What can organizational culture look like when in-person presence is infinitely, and instantly, accessible? We’re about to find out.
Intelligence on tap. New, and infinitely adaptable, virtual environments. We’re in the middle of a paradigm shift when it comes to the way millions experience the world. The challenge to any organization is clear.
But so is the path. To meet rapidly accelerating customer expectations, organizations must leverage the very technologies — AI, AR, VR — that will drive these expectation shifts across the coming years.
Employees will expect that these emerging technologies are put to work to remake their working lives. To equip them with new knowledge tools. To bring them together in new ways. To ensure every voice is heard, and every person seen.
Get it right, and employers can remake themselves around the new worlds that are coming. And empower their people to do more, and climb higher, than ever.
Organizations are breaking down physical barriers to create inclusive experiences for their employees and customers alike using virtual and mixed reality technology. For more inspiration and examples, check out this story on how companies are creating virtual experiences to supercharge the way they work.