Telepresence Robots Keep Teleworkers Better Connected

A few years ago, the Optical Society began using telepresence robots to keep remote workers better engaged in day-to-day office life. A look at how OSA has benefited from the technology and other considerations to keep in mind.

Although remote work might be the “new normal” for many organizations, it’s not without challenges. For example, ensuring that remote staff feel connected and are engaged in day-to-day office life can be difficult.

Because of this, organizations are experimenting with new technologies to establish greater connection with their teleworking employees.

For the Optical Society (OSA), this involved using telepresence robots to give remote workers a physical presence in the office. Currently, OSA has 140 staff members—29 of whom participate in its telework program and 12 of whom work remotely full-time from locations like California, Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

“The goal was to provide another tool to our teleworkers that would allow them to feel more in control of their experience and provide flexibility that a typical web collaborations tool might not offer,” said Sean Bagshaw, COO and CIO for OSA.

If you’ve never seen a robot for yourself, the video above provides a good overview. Essentially, it’s a remote-controlled, wheeled device that has wireless internet connectivity. Typically, the robot uses a tablet to provide video and audio capabilities.

“Our team uses software on a computer or mobile device to take control of the robot, drive it to the desired location, and participate via a real-time video and audio link,” Bagshaw said. “The robots are easy to use and control. They provide a different level of interaction and access when compared with traditional tools.”

But, more importantly, does a telepresence robot really mimic the feel of someone’s actual presence in the office or at a meeting?

“It can be hard to beat a face-to-face meeting,” Bagshaw said. “However, the robots have provided a great option for our teleworkers.”

For other associations that have remote workers and may be considering telepresence robots, Bagshaw offers a few caveats:

The first is that they have limitations. While these robots fill specific needs for OSA, Bagshaw said they’re not ideal for everything—or they might need to be used with other tools. “They may need to be combined with a web collaboration tool when employees are reviewing or working on a document,” he said. In addition, they’re also unable to move between floors and elevators or open doors.

Bagshaw also said that use of these robots requires training. “Staff are generally uncomfortable being on camera at first,” he said. “It takes time for staff to get used to a change in how they work and for the development of an accepting culture.”

“OSA’s goal was to provide more tools to our teleworkers to drive our mutual success, and the robots have fulfilled this goal,” Bagshaw said.

How do you think your association could benefit from using telepresence robots? Please leave your comments below.

A BeamPro, a common type of telepresence machine. (Beam press photo)

Emily Bratcher

By Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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