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.

Virtual Workplace? For Real! #TChat Preview

(Editor’s Note: Looking for a full recap and resource links from this week’s #TChat Events? See the #TChat Recap: “Putting a Face on Remote Work.”)

Distributed workforce. Virtual team. Telecommuting.

Whatever term you use to describe remote work models, the concept continues to gain momentum in today’s business environment — and with good reason.

High-speed connections, mobile technology and cloud-based collaboration tools now make it easy and cost effective for people to “go to work” anytime, from almost anywhere.

XJyGYBut infrastructure and good intentions, alone, don’t guarantee that virtual organizations will be productive and profitable. So, what does it take? That’s the focus of  #TChat Events this week, as we look at why and how successful virtual teams really work.

And what better way to explore this topic than with an entrepreneur whose business is driven entirely by remote contributors? Our guest this week is Mike Hostetler, Founder and CEO of appendTo, a highly successful web engineering firm, powered by a far-flung workforce.

“Sneak Peek” Hangout: Trifecta of Awesomeness

To kick-off this week’s discussion, Mike joined me for a G+ Hangout, where he outlined the “trifecta of awesomeness” — three key reasons why the virtual workplace is taking hold:

What are your thoughts about how to build and manage awesome virtual organizations? This week, we’re seeking wisdom from the crowd — so share your ideas and opinions with the #TChat virtual community!

#TChat Events: Why Remote Work Continues to Rise

#TChat Radio — Wed, Jan 15 — 6:30pmET / 3:30pmPT


Tune-in to the #TChat Radio Show

Our hosts, Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman talk with Mike Hostetler about what it takes to create and sustain successful virtual workplaces. Tune-in LIVE online this Wednesday!

#TChat Twitter — Wed, Jan 15 7pmET / 4pmPT

Immediately following the radio show, Meghan, Kevin and Mike will move to the #TChat Twitter stream, where the entire TalentCulture community will join the discussion. Everyone with a Twitter account is invited to participate, as we address these 5 related questions:

Q1: What are the pros and cons of virtual workplaces?
Q2: How do remote work models affect employee and customer engagement?
Q3: What factors should leaders consider when creating virtual teams?
Q4: How can recruiters identify traits of successful remote workers?
Q5: How can we apply technology to foster virtual collaboration?

We look forward to hearing your ideas and opinions, as talent-minded professionals who care about the human side of business.

Throughout the week, we’ll keep the discussion going on the #TChat Twitter feed, and on our LinkedIn Discussion Group. So feel free to drop by anytime and share your questions, ideas and opinions.

We’ll see you on the stream!

Telecommuting: 5 Ways Companies Benefit

Last year, when Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer banned telecommuting for her employees, the decision stirred a vigorous debate about whether it’s valid for any business to let employees work from home.

As I see it, any organization can boost the personal and professional productivity of its workforce through telecommuting. And the more widely it is embraced, the better for the company.

Therefore, it’s a smart move to integrate technologies that make the work-from-home process smoother and more seamless.

Telecommuting Success: It’s More Than Technology

However, simply putting new technology into place and allowing your workforce to telecommute won’t make your business productive. Successful virtual work initiatives still require effective management. Leaders need to engage team members (as if they were physically at the office) and make sure they are kept in the loop, so they remain psychologically and socially connected, even when they don’t share a physical office space.

5 Key Business Benefits

But that said, when virtual work options are implemented appropriately, the advantages are abundant. For example, here are five major ways companies can benefit:

1) Morale: Happier employees get more done. In many cities, employees deal with a grinding commute, only to sit in an office where they interact very little with their coworkers. Whether the telecommuting arrangement is permanent or just a weekly flex day, the reduced travel and stress can provide a tremendous boost in employee morale.

2) Talent Acquisition: This can be a significant advantage in both large and small markets, because the best talent isn’t always within driving distance. This is certainly affected by the scope of the position, but businesses that don’t require day-to-day physical access to a shared office can benefit by finding the best candidates, regardless of physical location. Telecommuting lets companies choose from a much larger talent pool when it’s time to recruit for open positions.

3) Productivity: If you have ever worked remotely you probably know that you can accomplish much more when the conditions are right. At many offices, constant distractions mean less work gets done than the company desires. While face-to-face camaraderie may help employees build relationships, beyond small talk, there isn’t much that can be accomplished sitting in a meeting room that can’t be accomplished from a distance, using collaboration tools.

4) Flexibility: Trying to bring teams together in the same space and time isn’t necessarily easier because everyone travels to a central office. The technology that companies adopt to enable telecommuting allows teams to collaborate in real time from anywhere members are located. Participants can access teleconferencing, web conferencing and telepresence from almost anywhere. So when people can’t be in the same physical place, the meeting will still go on.

5) Adoption: I have said this for as long as I can remember: ”Eat your own dog food!” Any business that considers itself a high-tech organization should adopt tools, structures and processes required for successful telecommuting. What’s more, these capabilities should be  promoted as a way the workforce can achieve maximum productivity and work-life balance. Using this technology day in and day out can truly bring the organization closer. And the value of that connection can be priceless, as it translates to better selling, delivery and support of the solutions your customers need.

What other ways can organizations benefit from telecommuting? Does your company allow telecommuting? If not, why? Share your opinions and ideas in the comments below.

(Editor’s Note: This post was adapted with permission from an article written for and published in Commercial Integrator Magazine and republished by Millennial CEO.)

(Also Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat Events each Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome at events, or join our ongoing Twitter conversation anytime. Learn more…)

Image Credit: Stock.xchng