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Cobotics and the Future of Workplace Experience  

Cobotics and the Future of Workplace Experience  
12 May 2022
 

How will cobotics shape our future experience of work?

Stefano Bensi, General Manager at SoftBank Robotics, explains how collaborative robots have a part to play in creating destination workplaces.

Stefano is responsible for building and launching innovative cobotic solutions across a range of industries. Stefano has extensive experience in leading international teams in sales, marketing, product management and operations, and he has expertise across a wide range of technologies, including the Internet of Things, cloud computing and robotics.

 

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Picture: a photograph of Stefano Bensi. Image Credit: SoftBank Robotics

 

Workplaces Post-COVID

 

Technology will play a central in shaping work and workplace experience post-COVID. The recent boom in virtual communications tools, such as Zoom, and other remote-based systems demonstrates the extent to which that is already happening.

Robotics and adjacent smart technologies are no longer the stuff of science fiction. As organisations welcome employees back into the office, and hotel and leisure sites reach full capacity again, they will help redefine physical spaces and how we use them.

 

"As organisations plan their post-pandemic strategy, they must make an extra special effort to create destination workplaces. For this to happen, they need to ensure that the workplace experience is so good and supportive that employees want to return and keep coming back. It’s increasingly clear that cobotics will help them do that."   

 

 

Changing Expectations of Employees

 

The days of the nine-to-five, five-day work week are over. Many organisations are implementing hybrid working policies intended for the long term, giving people more freedom to choose where and when they work.

As countless surveys have reported since the pandemic began, most people want to spend less time in the office. Crucially, however, they don’t want to lose all their office privileges. They want it to be open and available when they need it. They also want a space where they can meet, collaborate, and socialise with colleagues or customers when the time comes.

This shift in expectations will put pressure on organisations to create destinations – spaces that people want to go to even when they have the choice to work from wherever they want. It also means that offices and other public spaces will have to work extra hard to support occupants’ productivity, wellbeing, and overall experience.

 

The Near Future

 

In the short term, organisations need to prioritise the return to the office. Many people are anxious about heading back after so many months away. For a significant number that anxiety stems from a residual fear of the virus. Now, more than ever, the public understands the risks that public spaces pose to health if they are not clean, sanitised, and free from harmful particulates that can pass through ventilation systems and tend to stay on surfaces.

Recently, built environment groups such as the British Council for Offices and the Royal Academy of Engineering have called for better ventilation in Britain’s buildings to reduce the risk from airborne viruses, especially with so many employees heading back to offices now that restrictions have ended.

 

Long-Term Goals

 

However, even before the pandemic, there was a growing sense that people also understood the impact that indoor air quality and cleanliness overall have on their wellbeing more generally.  According to data from more than 900,000 employee surveys by global employee experience benchmarking firm Leesman, 67 per cent of office-based respondents have reported that air quality is important to them. Yet Leesman’s findings also suggest a significant gap between expectation and reality, with fewer than half (46 per cent) satisfied with the air quality in their office.

Meanwhile it’s a similar story for cleanliness. Three-quarters of Leesman respondents have reported that general cleanliness is important but only two in three are satisfied with this element of their office.

 

Call of the Cobots

 

So, where does cobotics fit into all this? Cobot is short for collaborative robot and, as the name suggests, the cobot’s role is to supplement or support labour. Perhaps the most well-known examples of this technology are the machines that assist workers on the assembly lines in automotive manufacturing, helping to build cars quicker and more accurately.

But, with the global cobotics market expected to reach nearly £10 billion by 2026, it’s no surprise that cobots are now expanding into many other industries. In the facilities management world, a growing number of can be found working as part of front-of-house teams, greeting people, and providing them with important employee or visitor information.   

Cleaning cobots are also an exciting proposition in the FM sector, especially now that facilities managers under so much pressure to create destinations. A cleaning cobot is ideal for time-consuming, repetitive, large-scale tasks, such as filtering carpets and sweeping floors. A cobot vacuum can clean floors quickly and produce high-quality results while leaving people to get on with trickier or high-value tasks, including disinfecting, sanitising, deep cleaning and dealing with reactive issues.

 

What’s Next for Cobotics?

 

A significant advantage to cobotics is that it can be integrated with other smart technology, such as smart sensors, analytics platforms, and machine learning, to fuel innovation and a host of other positive outcomes. By being able to analyse historic and real-time data from a vacuum cleaning cobot, FM teams can improve the efficiency and quality of their service, monitor the level of harmful particulates on surfaces, provide evidence of the cobot’s effectiveness against these particulates, and ultimately improve the workplace experience. 

Recently, SoftBank Robotics performed a study to learn how well a vacuum cleaning cobot would perform compared with a standard cleaning regime when tasked with vacuuming pollutants on floor surfaces. With the help of smart sensor provider Infogrid, we deployed dozens of air quality sensors to monitor CO2, VOCs, radon, humidity, light levels, ventilation, virus risk factor, air pressure, and a range of pollutants including particulate matter – the latter being the study’s primary focus. The study measured and compared approximately 400,000 data points over the four weeks, eventually uncovering a substantial positive reduction with the introduction of the cobot technology.

As organisations plan their post-pandemic strategy, they must make an extra special effort to create destination workplaces. For this to happen, they need to ensure that the workplace experience is so good and supportive that employees want to return and keep coming back.

It’s increasingly clear that cobotics will help them do that.   

Picture: a photograph of a collaborative robot. Image Credit: SoftBank Robotics

Article written by Stefano Bensi | Published 12 May 2022

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