May 3, 2023
Though the term metaverse was invented before they were born, Gen Z is being called “the metaverse generation.” They’re also described as the “most ethnically diverse” generation, the most “entrepreneurial” generation, and the “loneliest” generation. But what do Gen Zers, the first true digital natives to enter the workplace, really think about the metaverse? And what do employers need to know about this next generation of workers and leaders who will make up about a third of the U.S. workforce by 2030?
Introducing Gen Z
To quote numerous articles, Gen Zers were “practically raised online.” Born between 1997 and 2012 (so turning 11-26 this year), Gen Z is a generation defined by technology, a generation that has never known life without the Internet, social media, and a world of information at their fingertips.
Besides technology, Gen Z has been shaped by times of economic instability and sociopolitical unrest. Gen Zers grew up with terrorism and war, the Great Recession, gun violence, climate change, and political polarization. They’re now coming of age and starting their careers on the tail end of a global pandemic. As a result, they’re highly adaptable to sudden disruptions and paradigm shifts like the metaverse and digital ownership, but also likely to suffer from anxiety, worry about finances and the state of the world, and distrust both corporations and government.
Gen Zers spend eight or more hours a day online: In addition to gaming and consuming content, much of that time is spent socializing. (They are not, in fact, anti-social.) Gen Zers communicate primarily through social media. Many regularly game with the same group of people (often never meeting IRL), side hustle using peer-to-peer (P2P) selling platforms, and even mobilize around social justice issues—all online.
To be clear, Gen Zers do value in-person interaction, especially after the isolation of lockdown, but for a variety of reasons – convenience, escape, the opportunity to experiment with their identity, feel more themselves, natural propensity, etc. – they are drawn to online communities and consider their digital lives and online relationships as important as their real-world/offline ones.
Opinion of the Metaverse
Analysts looking at social platforms and online worlds like VRChat and The Sandbox report that Gen Z makes up approximately 60% of metaverse users and spends twice as much time socializing in the metaverse than in real life.
It’s true that Gen Z is taking increasing advantage of the social aspects of Fortnite, Minecraft, and similar games. The thing is, Gen Zers don’t actually identify their time spent interacting, shopping, or attending concerts in Decentraland and Roblox as “being in the metaverse.” They don't really draw much of a distinction between the online and offline worlds. And while Gen Z is more likely than older generations to have used a VR headset, they’re primarily accessing virtual gaming worlds via 2D devices.
Verdict: Whatever they think about the metaverse, Gen Z clearly has an affinity for virtual interaction. For them, the metaverse is a natural progression, an extension of reality in which the digital and real worlds have been blurred for some time.
Vision for the Metaverse
At the same time, Gen Z does see the metaverse as an opportunity to build a more idealized version of the world, a place where they can ditch social constraints, be anyone/anything they want, and have experiences not possible in the physical world.
They want the metaverse to reflect their values, to be open, free, and accessible, and to empower people to communicate, collaborate, shop, learn, entertain themselves, develop friendships, create, etc. in new ways.
In the Workplace
In multiple surveys, employees of all generations have expressed interest in working and interacting with their colleagues in the metaverse. This makes sense, as most people want to continue working remotely and the metaverse could prove the ultimate hybrid work solution. Gen Zers differ perhaps in their desire to build careers and earn a living from the metaverse. Gen Z also has different work expectations:
(Findings based on McKinsey research, Gallup studies, etc.)
· Technology: Call it digital fluency or dependence, Gen Z expects to use up-to-date technology to quickly communicate and access information on the job.
· Values: Gen Z wants diverse and inclusive workplaces, authenticity and pay transparency from employers, and companies to take a stand on environmental and social issues.
· Purpose: Gen Z wants to positively impact the world through their work.
· Boundaries: Gen Z prioritizes work-life balance and mental health over other job perks.
· Growth: Gen Z wants regular feedback, mentorship, and career development (up/reskilling) opportunities.
· Flexibility: Gen Z desires autonomy, flexible work arrangements, and exposure to different jobs and tasks.
The idea of the metaverse and capabilities of XR align with Gen Z’s ideal workplace and career goals. I imagine Gen Z employees embracing AR/VR to learn new skills, get guidance, socialize with coworkers around the world, collaborate on projects from anywhere on any device, and even meditate. Gen Zers themselves believe they will do some of their work in the metaverse in the next few years. Employers, on their part, could use AR/VR as part of a more inclusive hiring process, continuous skill building, sustainability efforts, brand campaigns showcasing company values, and more.
Of any generation, the future of work is probably most familiar to Gen Z. Let’s not forget that due to technology and lockdowns, Gen Z had a very different (i.e., digital) education and introduction to the world of work. Technology has been trending towards the kind of flexible working, global collaboration, efficiency, and self-empowerment inherent in the concept of the enterprise metaverse their whole lives.
Love to hate it or hate to love it, the metaverse will become a part of our personal and professional lives to some degree. Gen Z, today’s newest employees, are already “in the metaverse” without acknowledging it as such. Organizations that want to court this group must appreciate Gen Z’s ability to quickly grasp and become productive using new technology and provide both immersive and non-immersive mobile tools to support a multitude of working arrangements. This is what it means to be digital-first, to meet younger generations where they are now, which is, at least part-time, in the virtual realm.