The COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to innovate, including utilizing workplace robots. From telepresence capabilities to UV disinfection, mobile robots empowered people and provided business value. But even as the infection fades, their use will continue and expand.
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The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 brought monumental changes to workplaces, which continue to this day. Business leaders were faced with the challenge to remain efficient while addressing productivity issues resulting from the outbreak. Many organizations were forced to adopt virtual practices due to concerns around employee safety. Still others turned to robotics solutions, and these proved to be both effective and efficient.
The pandemic fueled the need for new business thinking, along with the utilization of new technologies, including workplace robots. But the adoption and use of robots in the workplace will not be temporary. Workplace robots not only solve complex, short-term challenges, they can also help drive operational productivity and cultural sustainability for years to come. Workplace robots empower people, enable business processes, and improve the workplace.
With the onset of the Covid pandemic, businesses sought more robust solutions to better support their increasingly distributed workforce. As a result, telepresence robots received significant attention.
Remote Work Challenges
COVID-inspired remote work mandates and travel restrictions presented a variety of challenges for businesses. But the growing demand for a more fluid, agile workplace was at play long before the pandemic. The pain points, whether acute or chronic, remain the same.
For many businesses, having remote team members can make it difficult for some to feel truly present in conversations and in-office activities. Remote workers can miss out on interactional nuances that promote morale and team chemistry. In addition, business outcomes suffer when people disconnect or question their ability to make an impact.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses sought more robust solutions to better support their increasingly distributed workforce. As a result, telepresence robots received significant attention.
Remote Presence and Collaboration
Telepresence robots empower people to be more ‘present’ during virtual interactions. With robotic telepresence systems, remote users can autonomously navigate to a desired workplace location and seamlessly interact with others through advanced video conferencing capabilities. Spontaneous, personalized interaction allows for a more immersive, meaningful way for people to collaborate and connect.
While COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of UV disinfection, this technology has been used prior to the pandemic (to fight other pathogens, including MRSA, for example), and will be used well into the future as cleanliness and employee safety continue to be top of mind.
Critical Capabilities and Business Value
While there are a variety of mobile telepresence systems in the marketplace, not all are created equal. To provide truly effective collaboration and an immersive experience for both remote users and those who are on-location, a number of critical capabilities, that distinguish a valuable business solution from video conferencing on wheels, must be supported. They include:
- Navigation and Mobility – The ability to navigate a workplace autonomously is critical to the user experience. Telepresence robots that provide advanced mapping capabilities and collision avoidance allow operators to efficiently and autonomously navigate to desired locations with ease. Operators are not required to the exact layout of an oftentimes unfamiliar space. Also, on-site team members remain free from any manual headaches.
- Ease of Use – Easy-to-use interfaces allow for more control and customization of the experience. Position adjustments such as sitting, standing, looking up or down and moving closer empower employees, customers, and clients to feel physically present in the space and immersed in the experience.
- Video Quality – The experience for both the operator and those physically present depends on the quality of the video. Having a crystal-clear view of one’s surroundings and reliable audio can be the difference between seamless collaboration and feeling disconnected from the team.
Beyond Conferencing and Collaboration
Telepresence robots that offer these features also make them suitable for a wide variety of use cases and business applications beyond remote conferencing and collaboration. From corporate office whiteboard sessions to manufacturing floor training and audits, and on to long-term care facilities visitation and more, there is, and will always be, an inherent need for people to connect and collaborate in flexible and satisfying ways.
Disinfection for Workplace Health & Safety
While telepresence applications are addressing collaboration challenges, other mobile robotics systems that can autonomously navigate are providing business value in other ways. For example, ultraviolet (UV) disinfection robots are used to deliver new workplace health and safety protocols and expectations. Autonomous UV robots, which can disinfect both air and surfaces, can supplement HVAC and manual cleaning services already in place at many businesses.
COVID-19 has revealed the importance of UV disinfection, but the technology has been in use before the pandemic (to fight other pathogens, including MRSA, for example), and will be employed well into the future as cleanliness and employee safety continue to be top of mind. While there is no silver bullet disinfection solution, mobile robots can become a new business best practice for workplace health and safety.
UV disinfection robots provide value that goes beyond destroying COVID-19 and general cleaning. They are becoming part of a larger, sustained trend toward increased corporate responsibility and people-focused workplace solutions. The ultimate goal is to help businesses do everything in their power to keep anyone in their workplace as safe as possible, increasing both employee and customer trust and confidence in the process.
A More Intelligent Workplace
The workplace experience is currently being evaluated and evolved with a critical eye — a process that is long overdue. Technology solutions like mobile telepresence systems and UV robots, whose adoption has been accelerated by the massive business and social transitions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, will emerge as mainstays in the workplace, not to replace people, but to work for and with them. These same systems also provide businesses with a real opportunity to transform operationally, as well as culturally, putting productivity and people at the forefront.
About the Author
Marcio is Co-Founder and Vice President of Product at Ava Robotics. Previously, Marcio was Director of Product Management for commercial robots at iRobot where he led the product strategy for iRobot’s leading-edge autonomous robots for commercial applications.