James Duru, Executive Creative Director APAC in our Sydney studio, discusses why brand will be crucial in defining the future of work.
The ways we work together have multiplied, but one piece has remained fixed, immovable. The office.
Shiny spaces are rented, bought and sold. Businesses craft their identities around the ‘vibe’, the freebies and the culture that a physical space cultivates. Through lockdowns, re-openings, WFHs, WFA, 4/1 weeks and flexitime, the office has stood, a rigid memento of a different time.
So we all emerge. From second bedrooms, kitchen tables and sofas in love with our new found flexibility and looking to connect with colleagues in ways which are more fluid and less transactional.
Globally, this tension is bubbling up with businesses struggling to clearly express why employees should return to in-person work, especially when the pandemic and flexible working saw record profits and employee satisfaction. Whilst return to office is at its highest since the pandemic, the Wall Street Journal reports that office utilisation rates are stuck below 50%. This lags far behind more flexible solutions like WeWork who are reporting occupancy closer to 75%. Flexibility is becoming the new norm.
Against this backdrop, Soma was created. Founded by South Korean prop-tech business Zigbang, they spotted a growing global trend: organisations conflating a cultural issue (office attendance) with a condition of employment. Challenged by their own need to leave the office during South Korea’s lockdowns, they set out to prototype tools which foster organisational culture at scale, unconstrained by physical location.
By focusing on development of organisational culture, rather than mandatory attendance and in-person visibility, they could abandon the preconceived expectations of how to build a digital work tool. Rather than looking at creating a facsimile video conferencing experience, inspiration and skills were instead drawn from online role-playing games. In particular, how they foster culture amongst multiple participants, from different backgrounds in distant locations.
Welcome to Soma; a virtual district, built around a series of towers, each with distinct floors and customisable office space. Soma allows individuals to rent 'space' in a tower and create custom avatars to represent themselves to bring teams and organisations together. More Minecraft and less physically taxing than Horizons or Spatial (there's no goofy headset), Soma can be kept online all day, moving your avatar from group to group and room to room. Users can sit alongside, collaborate or just shoot the breeze with colleagues, who are thousands of miles away in a way that replicates the spontaneity of being ‘in the room’ together.
The creativity that this way of working embraces is an exciting one. Built on the question of “what if…?” not what we’ve known before, Soma embraces an experimental nature and designs for the conditions we want to foster, not the rigid outputs we have previously demanded.
Over the past 9 months DesignStudio APAC has been living and breathing all things metaverse. Getting our hands dirty, helping craft the strategic direction, brand and experience for Soma for its global launch. Spending all our time as one team in Soma, iterating and feeding into the developing product. Digging into its various features to deeply understand the brand, its curiosities and opportunities.
As brand builders we have the exciting opportunity to help bring experimental products and businesses like these to the world. How we do that helps communicate differences, add stand out and intrigue audiences, allowing them to think differently about what they’ve been told around long-established systems and behaviours.
We're only at the start of seeing creative solutions like Soma that are defining our shifting culture by changing the way we think about and experience work. As teams become increasingly spread across geographies and time zones, businesses will need to navigate how to create culture and connection regardless of where their team log on from. Branding can be the key to taking these new technologies and platforms and turning them into easily adopted experiences.
If you’d like to learn more about our work in the metaverse and how we can partner with internal teams to build brands for prototypes email firstname.lastname@example.org