Telepresence Robots: The New Look of Telecommuting

Forget video conferencing. Now there’s an even better way to telecommute—one that allows you to move, interact, and engage as if you were right in the same room as your colleagues. Perhaps even cooler—it allows you to ride a Segway from afar. Telepresence robots are the new wave of technology coming to workplaces across the country, and they’re making their way into almost every sector, from healthcare and education to art and entertainment.

I remember the first time I encountered a telepresence robot. I was visiting a local hospital, and the robot was on-hand to translate important health information to a patient who did not speak English. The idea seemed brilliant for a few reasons. First, the comfort of being able to speak in your own language with an actual human could be a huge help in the healing process. And second—from a purely business point of view—the option of using robots to deploy human translators as needed meant hospitals were no longer limited to the number of translators they could afford to hire. They could simply outsource the service to a translating company that was ready and available when needed—offering a much larger array of languages than the hospital would be able to offer on its own.

It seems translators aren’t the only ones who got the message. Now, telepresence robots are making their way into mainstream offices, allowing employees to enjoy mobility in a whole different way. Once relegated to long phone calls and teleconferences—often feeling left out and marginalized by onsite employees— “robotic” employees can speak at eye level, move alongside colleagues, and offer their insights and ideas without missing a beat. But beyond the personal and psychological benefits of being more fully “present” in the workplace, what are the business-side benefits of offering robotic telecommuting? The following are just a few:

Makes Dangerous Tasks Safer

Now, rather than sending structural engineers, rescue teams, or police forces into potentially dangerous areas, companies can send those professionals via robotic telepresence. The option allows experts to scope out the situation using their specific know how—without risking their lives.

Makes Experiential Learning Even Easier

Now, schools, colleges, and businesses no longer need to factor in airfare, hotel, bus, and food expenses into the cost of experiential learning. A type of virtual reality light, robotic telepresence allows you to visit museums, tour cities, or participate in professional conferences—all without leaving home. And you don’t even have to wear VR goggles to do it.

Allows You to Hire the Best—And Experience Them in Person

Mobility has been a huge help in allowing companies to hire the best person for the job, regardless of where they live. Now, companies can experience their insights and personality even easier, pulling them into impromptu discussions, ad hoc meetings, and even lunch outings. For the first time, remote employees can feel like a real part of the team.

Offers a More Seamless Work Experience

In the past, remote employees often missed out on group work and interaction. Now, robots can be wheeled aside for team projects, sidebar conversations, and other personal engagement that video conferencing simply doesn’t provide. It allows for a more seamless—and efficient—work experience, and allows you to benefit from the employee’s full range of talent, as well.

Cuts Down on Multi-tasking

We all know one of the likely side effects of being on a long and arduous conference call is that it allows us to catch up on emails, check our phones, and—if we’re working remotely—do the laundry. Robotic telepresence limits the ability for employees to take on those other tasks, forcing them to focus on the project—and people—at hand. That in turn makes the meetings less arduous and more productive overall.

As the world continues to move toward mobility and remote work environments, robotic telepresence offers a great way to keep our human connections as they should be—human—albeit with technology’s helping hand. The advancement is one that will surely become more common in offices around the world—and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw family members visiting our homes as robots soon, as well.

Additional Resources on This Topic:
One Goal, One Team: The Remote Workforce Conundrum
How Mobile Technology Impacts the HR Industry

Photo Credit: Janitors Flickr via Compfight cc

This article was first published on FOW Media.