Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella discusses the metaverse and 2021 work norms

Satya Nadella
Satya Nadella (Image credit: Harvard Business Review)

What you need to know

  • Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently spoke with Harvard Business Review's Editor-in-Chief.
  • They discussed the current state of work, as well as other timely topics such as the "metaverse" concept.
  • Nadella managed to segue his discussion of the metaverse concept into a Microsoft Teams plug.

Harvard Business Review's Editor-in-Chief Adi Ignatius sat down for a video call with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to discuss a bevy of topics ranging from the ever-popular "how has work changed" dialogue that's dominated 2021 to the science-fiction-tinged subject of "the metaverse."

Ignatius loosely framed the metaverse discussion with the idea that's it's a technological landscape of the future where our real world gets more deeply integrated with 3D augmented reality and virtual reality tech.

Nadella spoke about the metaverse by saying "there is both an outside-in and inside out" to describe the idea that it's not just about putting a computational reality over the top of our real one, but also about putting the real world inside a computer's domain. To give an example, he pointed out how Microsoft Teams meetings function, putting real-world elements into a digitized format. He then acknowledged the Ready Player One fantasy angle, referencing HoloLens and how really, with that sort of technology in mind, the metaverse has been around for a while.

"[...] So video [-based meetings] transcending to 2D avatars and 3D immersive meetings is probably as practical a way for us to think about how the metaverse really emerges," he said. He described the metaverse as another point along the continuum between physical and digital meetings, and that while it would get remote individuals closer to physicality than ever before, true physical interactions cannot be substituted.

The rest of the video contains Nadella's insights on work trends, leadership, and other elements pertaining to subjects he has expertise in as the CEO of Microsoft.

Robert Carnevale

Robert Carnevale is the News Editor for Windows Central. He's a big fan of Kinect (it lives on in his heart), Sonic the Hedgehog, and the legendary intersection of those two titans, Sonic Free Riders. He is the author of Cold War 2395. Have a useful tip? Send it to

  • Because what humans need is less real-life contact.
  • All you need is your "virtual friends" to feel loved .....
  • Virtual friends? Feeling loved? That reminds me! I got something for you.
  • Isaac Asimov long ago (CAVES OF STEEL/NAKED SUN) postulated that humans would first separate themselves from the natural world by cocconing in giant sealed urban worlds and later from each other, relying on remote "viewing" for all interactions. The endgame for that progression being extinction. We are well on tbe way to both, with the seemingly unending urbanizing of societies and pandemic-driven "social distancing". One would think intimate intercourse would prevent the extreme "distancing" but there seems to be a market for software and robots for that, too. As direct interactions get increasingly "contentious" in crowded urban worlds and "social" media displaces personal interactions , Asimov's stories no longer look impossible. Or even implausible. And not millennia way, either.
  • Thank you, I almost forgot Asimov, I read the books years ago, Think I'm reread them soon.
    And all the other stories of course, Foundation etc, all the books were written together.
  • Except thst technology is actually being used to bring people much closer together thst they ever were... Say what you want about social media and its downsides (of which there are many) but they definitely connected people much more than it was previously possible. This trend will continue so the opposite of what you say is true. Maybe there will be less phisical interaction for work and classes, but I doubt people will stop physically going to see each other. Just look at how even during the pandemic people still could not wait to go out and meet.
  • Yes yes, people said this when the telephone was invented too lol. Keep up.
  • No mention of their own platform Microsoft Mesh (announced in March):
  • I really don't have any interest on what that man has to say. He says nothing of any value as far as I'm concerned. He's laughable at best.
  • Equally true of your comment for me!
  • "Painfully_Candid" and I totally agree with you. "I really don't have any interest on what that man has to say. " You lied. Why comment on what you don't have interest on, evidently YOU DO.
  • You are kind of a depressed person. You don't have interest but you commented. Get a doctor.
  • I have plenty of criticisms around some of his go-to-market decisions and long-term productline support for consumer products, but Nadella clearly merits our respect, having built MS into the most valuable company in the world, seeing massive growth and increase in growth rate since he took over. "Laughable at best" is a fairly silly comment to someone who has proven himself to be as consequential as Nadella (and there are only a handful of people on the planet who have).
  • So when Facebook announces that the key is to build the multi-users avatars system so apps can easily integrate them and users can move from apps to apps keeping their avatar consistent like if they were moving around a single world, Nadella decides to explain Teams can do video conferencing, and completely ignores that one of his team has been working on exactly the same goal and announced Mesh as a key component of their Mixed Reality vision, and that they have experience in massive multi-players avatars in shared 3D space with the Xbox network ?! I’m starting to believe the “must win” XR, so critical for Microsoft to leapfrog mobiles and becomes relevant again in the next paradigm, is already lost. Time to give more power to Kipman, or they’ll be left behind wondering why Teams lost ground like Skype did, and Windows Holographic will go the way of the Windows Mobile.
  • I think the difference is that Meta is approaching VR and AR as social first - they kept emphasizing connecting people, whereas Microsoft Mesh is being targeted towards businesses and education first, and so, I suspect, will be integrated with Microsoft Teams. I also suspect that while Facebook is heavily investing in VR as the future, Microsoft (and apparently so does Google and Apple) believes AR is a better goal to pursue and Mesh seems to also include AR. Lastly, Meta and their announcements were way, way ahead of the actual technology or the international standards being in place. Look at using various browsers. If a developer creates a web experience, ensuring it is the same across the various browsers is not a trivial exercise. Facebook is talking about moving personal digital assets, which could have been created in any number of applications, between apps. The coordination and cooperation required for this is almost monumental, and I suspect like the various differences between how browsers still operate, is a pipe dream in the short and medium term.
  • I don't think they want assets to move between apps, although Khronos seems to be on the right track for that. I believe Facebook wants the avatars to be handled by the platform, and all apps to use their API to integrate avatars in their VR and AR environments.
    This would make avatars consistent across apps, make digital assets for your avatars available regardless of the app, while keeping them DRM'ed if needed, and since we all know Facebook end goal, it also means Facebook would be the company centralizing all avatars movements like in a multiplayer video game, giving them the opportunity to collect information about every physical move you make in every single app that integrates their avatar system. While targetting different scenarios and markets at first, this is pretty much exactly the same as what Microsoft Mesh does as well, and both could simply extend into the other one's territory once their platform is established. What I find concerning is, several years ago, Microsoft talked about merging Xbox avatars, AltspaceVR avatars, and now Teams into a single platform, and make the Windows Mixed Reality home environment multi-player, allowing you to invite other users into your volumetric workspace. This is very close to Facebook's goals, but now Microsoft seems to have completely forgotten about it.
  • You just stated "I don't think they want assets to move between apps," but then your next paragraph just said otherwise. "and since we all know Facebook end goal, it also means Facebook would be the company centralizing all avatars movements like in a multiplayer video game, giving them the opportunity to collect information about every physical move you make in every single app that integrates their avatar system." How is that thought process different from wanting assets to move between apps. In my opinion, the key for asset movement is the ability to use key identifier in this case the avatar to tag. What a funny way for users to loose privacy as well.
  • There is a difference between an asset being the user's property and available in a standard format such as glTF for other apps to use as they want, and an API to render the avatar with its props, but making it impossible for the app to use the props in any other way. Imagine an Xbox avatar that has a small model car in his hand, and a racing game using avatars. The avatars API might allow the game to use the standard Xbox avatars, including holding that small model car in its hand, even when rendered within the game, but not being allowed to reuse that prop as your car for the race. So the assets wouldn't be moving between apps, just be part of the avatar and limited to that use. Basically, they feel like they are part of the avatar, but are limited to the platform instead of belonging to the user, you're not keeping it if you're using another platform such as using Microsoft Mesh avatars. This is a way to lock users into your ecosystem, as they would lose their props when using apps that decided to go with another avatars platform.
  • Facebook wants to handle all themselves, pal. Don't dream about them being cooperative and open, it's a delusion.
  • Please stop using "social", it is a way to monetize and advertize all their bulls@#t
  • Anyone using "metaverse" as a buzzword is putting money into Facebook's pockets. It's little more than wishful thinking, not in terms of what could happen in the future, but more in influencing what could happen by insisting on it and imprinting the idea ( very loosely backed by actual technology or content) in people's mind. So Satya's comment should have been "Zuck is full of it" but he's a clever guy so he commented around it.
  • Wasn't the entire point of HoloLens to get into this space first though? Are Microsoft really just going to hand this all to Facebook when they made such a concerted effort to be first through the gate with mixed reality?
  • While there is clearly some overlap, I think the distinctions between what they're trying to do are essential. Facebook (I can't bring myself to call them "Meta" yet, but I'll get there eventually) wants to provide and presumably control a virtual universe for connections. Microsoft is trying to provide tools for connecting people and their ideas. The focus is the key distinction: Facebook focuses on the virtual world, making it as enticing as possible, MS on what the users are able to do and how it helps them accomplish their work. This is also why Facebook is thinking primarily about VR while Microsoft is thinking primarily about AR.
  • Surface hololens powerd by windows 365. 😇😇😇. Aka new windows mobile. That's what I want.
    Microsoft is the one most likely to succeed with the ar glasses and over 5 year experience. Let alone there massive cloud pc power.
    They have to do this or they will fall behind. Don't make the same mistake like you did with windows phone aka to late. Or let fear keep you from doing it.
  • I love your last sentence there: how many human endeavors have failed due to fear? Probably most of them, and we only even know about the ones that got far enough to make the news. Any decision tainted by fear is at best poorly reasoned. More typically, it's a bad decision.
  • Does anyone else hear his accent when they read his quote
  • In regards to the name change, Meta will always be s****y, sell your private information and your the product, Facebook to me.