The metaverse is one of those topics that people in all industries are talking about. It is a fusion of technologies that spawn an enduring virtual reality (VR) infrastructure that anyone will be able to access from anywhere on earth to interact, play, work, and shop. Even though it is only in its infancy, the metaverse is already impacting the coworking space industry by creating new hybrid physiverse/metaverse business models that allow coworking space providers to take advantage of this emerging trend. As it becomes what it is meant to be, the metaverse will offer even more opportunities for those businesses that are ready and that invested in the proper technology early on.
One such model envisions coworking spaces as points of access to the metaverse for remote workers and digital nomads who want to collaborate in this VR space. Another model implies the creation of virtual coworking spaces and meeting rooms that mirror their physical counterparts in a way that allows collaboration in an augmented reality environment between team members thousands of miles away. For this to become a reality, businesses will likely need to embrace the new virtual economy as well as several developing metaverse technologies. In this article, we’ll explore five pieces of technology and amenities that future coworking spaces will need in order to offer these and other metaverse services.
At the moment, the metaverse is not a single global platform but rather a collection of independent virtual worlds that evolved from online gaming platforms like Fortnite, Second Life, Roblox and Sandbox, to name a few. At the moment, you can access these platforms on a mobile phone or computer through a simple web browser which is not exactly a VR experience.
However, all the current efforts in metaverse development aim at a fully immersive VR platform that will require users to use some kind of VR headset. The fact that these headsets can be very expensive opens the opportunity for coworking spaces to offer them as a part of their metaverse subscription plan or service.
There are headsets of all price ranges, so coworking spaces can set themselves apart from the competition by offering higher-end headsets or even a tier system catering to different types of users.
Low-cost, good-quality VR headsets that use a mobile phone to render images (like the Samsung Gear VR) could be an option, but all-in-one solutions like the Oculus Quest 2 and the HTC Vive that run for about $300 and $600 respectively will be a more attractive choice for users.
VR will not be the only way people will access the metaverse. If history has taught us anything is that Apple has a good eye when it comes to setting trends, and the Cupertino giant is not betting on a VR metaverse but rather an integration of the real world with virtual environments in an augmented reality setting. This means that gearing up on VR headsets alone may not be enough for coworking spaces to be competitive in the future.
The first iterations of the metaverse don’t seem to offer too much in terms of image quality, which means that you don’t need the best, most expensive pieces of equipment available for most applications. However, coworking spaces that want to attract the future remote 3D designers and other professionals will need to offer nothing but the best VR experience possible, which means investing in units like the Varjo XR3, which runs for about $6,000+ an almost $1,500 annual subscription.
Renting out these units can become very profitable for coworking spaces since not many designers will be willing to put almost $8K in a VR headset, but may be more than willing to rent one if they need it. Provided you do your homework, find the right crowd to market this service to and provide easy and flexible payment options, you’ll be able to extract every bit of value from these amazing headsets.
A part of making the metaverse immersive is interacting with virtual objects and receiving physical feedback from those interactions. This is where haptic technology comes in. Haptic gloves and haptic suits are meant to provide this type of force feedback based on the things you touch, grab and interact with in VR.
At present, these technologies are quite advanced but are still too expensive and considerably clunky and uncomfortable to wear, so they’re still nothing like the IOI haptic X1 Bootsuit from the Ready Player One film. Either way, as it evolves and becomes more accessible, coworking spaces may wish to invest in some sort of haptic technology to stay ahead of the competition since there are many design and business applications where force feedback may be relevant.
Meta launched a wristband AR sensor in March 2021 that uses electromyography (EMG) to detect electrical signals generated by wrist and finger movements to turn them into computer commands. This means that the wristband can “read” what fingers you’re moving and then have your avatar mirror that motion in the metaverse or use the information to trigger another type of interaction.
Brain-to-computer (BCI) or brain-to-machine interfaces (BMI) are similar technologies that can also improve how we move and interact in virtual environments. BCIs use electrodes placed on the head to read brainwaves and turn them into commands that a computer can read. These technologies would allow users to interact with virtual environments with only the power of their minds. These types of interfaces can empower physically impaired individuals to access the metaverse, so investing in BCIs is a way for coworking spaces to become more inclusive in the present and future.
Depending on the headset technology that you choose to run with, you’ll need more or less computing power. Those who decide to go all the way with the most advanced high-resolution VR headsets will need workhorse computers with two DisplayPorts 1.4 that support 8K video streaming at 60Hz and HDR each.
A good computer with a good, high-end video card will do for any other VR or AR headset, but you still need to make sure they pack enough processing power to provide a seamless, fluid, latency-free VR experience.
High-speed WiFi is the lifeblood of any coworking space, but that will become even more relevant as the metaverse evolves. Since a global metaverse infrastructure akin to the current form of web 2.0 is yet to be developed, no one knows for sure exactly how the metaverse will work in terms of communications protocols and standards. However, we can make some educated guesses around how much bandwidth and latency we’ll need.
The first thing to consider is bandwidth. How much information do we need to exchange for a smooth metaverse experience? Let’s begin with visuals.
The reason why you can look around you seamlessly when you’re immersed in VR is that the headset effectively displays a 360° image of your surroundings in every frame, but you only see the small portion of it that is in front of you (which is your field of view). This can be as little as 1/12 of the entire image. That means that to get a full-HD VR experience (1080p), the headset will need to stream video at around 12K resolution. That will probably require a connection of more than 200 Mbps download speed.
If you plan to cater to metaverse content creators, you’ll also need an equivalent upload bandwidth if they plan to do any streaming.
Latency will probably be the biggest problem to deal with for the metaverse to work. We all hate it when we talk simultaneously during a zoom meeting only because our words took too long to get to the other side. If this is an issue for video calls, imagine what it will be like if, apart from voice and video, we’ll also need to transmit positional data for every avatar (and their body parts) that is walking, talking and moving around at the same time.
Given the above network requirements for a smooth metaverse experience, DSL connections just won’t cut it, especially since most don’t offer adequate upload speeds but focus more on download speeds. In this sense, upgrading to a fiber optic internet connection that offers a high enough download/upload bandwidth will likely be necessary for coworking spaces that want to provide an attractive service for their customers.
Another potential solution comes in the form of new high-bandwidth, low-latency satellite internet like some of the constellations currently being deployed in orbit by companies like SpaceX (the Starlink constellation) and Amazon (Project Kuiper).
The metaverse is coming, and coworking spaces need to be prepared. It offers a great opportunity for the industry to evolve and possibly reinvent itself by creating new services that will be relevant for years to come. Investing in the technology early on will let you acquire the experience to offer the best service possible to your current and future clients and customers, ensuring a successful business as the internet evolves into Web 3.0.
The article was written by Jordan Bishop, 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 you optimize your finances while living an international life. He recently published his first book, Unperfect, an exploration of problem solving.