The Korea Herald


Kakao’s ‘Metaverse Work System’ faces internal resistance

Insider says new system is like panopticon prison; Kakao has no plan to withdraw policy

By Byun Hye-jin

Published : June 1, 2022 - 15:45

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Kakao Pangyo Headquarters in Gyeonggi Province (Kakao) Kakao Pangyo Headquarters in Gyeonggi Province (Kakao)

South Korean tech giant Kakao said Wednesday that it will revise its Metaverse Work System that would allow employees to work remotely but connect them online at all times, after it drew ire over excessive monitoring.

Kakao CEO Namkoong Whon said in an announcement to staff that he will consider changing the ground rules, including those involving mandatory real-time voice calls among colleagues and set working hours.

“After the beta test of the new work system, team members can vote on whether they will need to adopt the real-time voice communication policy,” Namkoong said.

Under the Metaverse Work System, which the company announced on Monday, employees would work remotely and connect with colleagues virtually.

Despite the policy’s name, work will not actually be taking place on any metaverse platform. Rather, employees are to use a variety of online communication channels, as if they are working from virtual spaces.

They would use Kakao Work, a business messenger that allows for text messaging, voice and video calls. In particular, interactive team meetings and communication will take place through real-time chat apps including Discord, it added.

It also set mandatory working hours from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Previously, the company had a flexible work hour policy, which allowed workers to control when they start work and what time they leave.

With the new system, employees would work online for four days a week. For the remainder of the day, they will have to meet offline for meetings but not necessarily at the office.

The new working system is scheduled to begin from July 1, effectively ending the work-from-home arrangement that has been in place since the coronavirus pandemic outbreak in 2020.

But the announcement prompted an immediate backlash from employees who turned to posting their grievances on an in-house online community space.

“In order for real-time voice chatting to work, the laptop speaker has to be on at all times. For those who can’t turn on the speaker, one has to wear earphones for eight hours a day,” one anonymous Kakao staffer wrote. “Even though we have built trust after adopting a work-from-home arrangement, (the new work policy) is designed to spy on employees.”

Other staffers likened the virtual work system to a panopticon prison, a design in which prison cells are arranged in a circle around a central observation tower so that inmates can be monitored at all times.

Some blasted the policy on setting core mandatory work hours, saying that it defeats the purpose of one of Kakao’s employee benefits.

“Flexible working hours was the key reason why employees opted to work for Kakao despite a low income. Kakao was known as a symbol of innovative work culture, but it went backward like the rest of existing companies,” another unnamed Kakao staffer said.

Despite growing outrage from employees, Kakao said it would not scrap the new work policy.