Just as virtual reality game company Roblox was going public in March 2021 and long before Facebook announced its name change to Meta in October, Accenture HR leaders pitched the idea of a corporate metaverse.
The global IT services and consulting firm may not seem like the most natural leader in the race to build out the metaverse, but Allison Horn, who leads global talent for Accenture, says the initial idea started when HR was looking for new ways to collaborate, and onboard new hires, while much of its workforce was still remote. As No. 6 on Fortune’s 2022 Best Companies to Work For, Accenture has a long history of providing best-in-class tools and programs to its employees.
In March 2021, a team including Horn approached Accenture’s chief leadership and human resources officer, Ellyn Shook, with the idea of building a corporate metaverse to both onboard new employees and increase digital collaboration between the company’s more than 600,000 workers globally.
Because the space was so new, the initial phase was simply figuring out what it really meant to bring this technology to enterprise scale, Horn tells Fortune. One of the early stumbling blocks, Horn says, was over hardware and the fact that the only real device that was widely available for corporate use was Oculus. That, however, requires users have a Facebook account, something Accenture’s lawyers weren’t initially happy to hear, she adds.
The team also needed to ensure that Accenture’s metaverse was accessible via desktop, because not all employees would have access to a headset, and they wanted to make sure there were no inequities in the virtual office.
By summer 2021, the team had rolled out what they called Project Avatar, an opt-in program in which employees could get access to Accenture’s enterprise metaverse, “The Nth Floor.” The company purchased 60,000 Oculus headsets and supplied them free of charge to employees who were interested in trying out the technology.
It’s been a work in progress to get the equipment to Accenture employees, Horn admits, since an employee or new hire has to live in a certain country in order for Accenture to be able to ship headsets. “That’s just the nascency of this space right now,” she says.
Accenture also incorporated the metaverse into its onboarding, having new employees access One Accenture Park, a VR orientation environment, during their first two days. “They create avatars. They team up to play learning games to learn about Accenture. And then they get to go and experience parts of our culture,” Horn says—all from the comfort of their homes.
Accenture essentially provides a tour guide that is in charge of leading new hires through their first few days, toggling between sessions on Microsoft Teams and VR experiences on the Nth Floor.
And the program will be expanding, Horn says. Accenture plans to continue to bring back new employees to One Accenture Park throughout their first year for additional training, information, and feedback sessions.
Accenture also encourages employees to use their headsets for fun. “The more you’re in the headset, the more you’re understanding the possibilities,” Horn says, adding that in addition to building digital versions of Accenture’s existing offices where employees can meet up and collaborate, the company has purchased various licenses for fitness and wellness apps so staff can start to understand the power of the platform.
“To be completely honest, I didn’t understand those implications until I got into the space,” Horn says, adding that she initially viewed VR as just another device. But she says the metaverse actually feels different.
“You literally feel like you’re hanging out with people. It’s never going to be the same as actually sitting across a table sharing a meal together. But it is so much more than being on a Teams call,” Horn says.
The technology is starting to catch on internally. In 2021 Accenture had 11,000 employees accessing its enterprise metaverse. But the company expects that to grow to 150,000 employees by the end of this fiscal year. Additionally, Accenture has already filed 600 patents around metaverse-related technologies and experiences.
For Horn, perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the new technology is the feedback she’s hearing from her colleagues. “I am seeing LinkedIn flooded with new employees posting their avatars,” she says, adding that new hires like to brag about the metaverse onboarding experience and post selfies they took while in virtual reality.
And Horn believes that companies are only beginning to scratch the surface of the power of this technology. “There are huge implications for the future of work here,” Horn says.
See the full list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2022.