According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly one-third of the U.S. workforce and half of all information workers can work from home. Though the number of people working partially, or fully remote has been on the rise for years now, the COVID-19 pandemic may have pressed the fast-forward button on this trend.
IoT and Data
Technology will play a key role, as will the ability to connect apps and technology. The Internet of Things (IoT) has been key in connecting enterprises and workers in recent years. It has also become a key part of the digital workplace even if it is only by virtue of the amount of data it can gather.
Through IoT sensors, enterprises can measure the external environments such as light intensity, position, flow, pressure, force, and temperature. Also, they measure physical inputs and convert them into raw data. The data is then stored digitally for analyzing the processes. The IoT solutions require and generate a persistent flow of data from the surroundings for functioning and in doing so enable data-driven workplaces to function.
Even with the impact of the coronavirus on the enterprise and the consequent slowing of business activity, the IoT market is expected to grow to 5.8 billion endpoints by the end of 2020. IoT technologies will be paramount in driving the remote work revolution forward in sectors including healthcare, supply chain, and manufacturing, amongst others.
Data in IoT, Data in Workplace
Derek A. Martinez is a technologist and member of the IEEE Technical Committee on IoT and Big Data. He is also a working group member of the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education. He pointed out that when we look at the role of IoT in the digital and remote workplace, it is less about the edge processes devices themselves and more about the data these devices are aggregating, analyzing, dashboard viewing, and workflow automation.
Organizations have already added software to laptops to gain insight on the work habits of employees, however employers will incentivize employees by expanding data insight from such IoT devices as wearables. The value to the organization is understanding employee sleep patterns, exercise habits, eating habits, and activity hours. With this type of insight various work projects can be pushed out to the employees best suited for the task based on the information gleaned from the IoT device. “No matter what the smart device is, employers can incentivize employees to utilize these endpoints and gather usable real-time data from them; smart chairs, smart pens, smart glasses, and the list of IoT devices providing data to the employer becomes never-ending,” he said.
Working Remotely, Working Smarter
IoT has been changing the way people work for a while now, but with the influx of remote workers caused by COVID-19, this technology has had a chance to shine, Sarah Franklin co-founder of Canada-based Blue Tree AI, told us. IoT can create a customized workspace for all types of companies. It can create and offer personalized solutions to specific problems that popup. There are so many options and variables that play out in the workspace each day and humans simply cannot catch them all. “When we enable IoT through smart devices, they can catch unique or obscure variables and turn, which we can then turn to our advantage,” she said. Remote work was on the rise even before COVID-19 arrived and is likely to continue to grow. With the application of IoT, many remote workers can work smarter and safer from their desired location.
So, what will happen to IoT applications in the post COVID-19 era? Korea-based Omer Cheema leads an IoT business team at Samsung. He pointed out that there are three key areas that come under remote-x. Remote work, remote education, telehealth. He argues that you could also add online shopping (retail/ supply chain) to that but he defines it as a trend of digitalization and not remote working.
1. Remote Work
Most of the remote work requires internet connected devices such as laptops, mobile phones, webcams, microphones. Companies such as Zoom are capitalizing on the trend of moving away from physical work by allowing an ecosystem of above devices to connect with their cloud service. Their stock performance since the pandemic began shows the markets' confidence in their ability to capitalize on this opportunity.
2. Remote Education
Very similar IoT devices as in the remote work. Same set of companies e.g. Logitech for Mics and webcams, Zoom for cloud service. New intelligent service to identify the speaker, live transcription, better virtual whiteboards etc. Background noise and visual distractions need to be addressed for work and education from home. New algorithms to improve these capabilities will be important
Regulations around security and privacy have been the key barriers to adoption before Covid-19. Given the emergency, FDA and other regulators around the world have relaxed the compliance requirements. Consultation with doctors can now be done all online with a few clicks, thanks to services provided by companies like Teladoc. Remote vital signs monitoring is becoming more important and FDA has again relaxed them requirements.
Given the current health crisis, its impact on healthcare infrastructure is going to be significant, he added. In countries like South Korea, governments have already implemented IoT based pandemic response systems.
Augmented Workplace Environment
Hamna Amjad, an outreach consultant with Smith Thompson, a Dallas-based company specializing in home security and home automation, suggests three other ways in which IoT will give remote workers an edge.
1. Enhanced Collaboration
Collaboration will be improved with IoT as teams will be better connected and will have more control over their work environment. The companies will be able to develop a more robust training program that is consistent for each employee. The onboarding process will become more efficient for employees, regardless of where they are located. The new employees would be able to gain knowledge about their workplace and to connect with employees in a better way.
2. Workplace Security
IoT makes it possible to manage your workplace security via a smartphone app. Using cloud-enabled access control system, you can set granular access rights to different members of your organization. You can also perform remote unlocks and set a variety of automated rules.
3. Remote Work
Many employees would like to continue working from home even after the pandemic is over. IoT enables workers to perform vital tasks remotely (without being physically present). It makes remote work possible across several sectors, providing more freedom and flexibility to employees.
IIoT And Digital Workplace
Many manufacturing OEMs and other industrial companies have been using new Industrial IoT (IIoT) technologies to deploy predictive maintenance, equipment-as-a-service, real-time shipment visibility and other IIoT applications that allow them to fundamentally change their businesses, Olivier Pauzet, VP and general manager of IoT solutions at Canada-based Sierra Wireless, said.
While this has increased due to the pandemic, most industrial companies have been slow to use IIoT (Industrial IoT) technologies to truly create “smarter” factories, cities, power grids, buildings, and supply chains. The reason is that IIoT technology is complex and it requires special expertise to connect industrial operational technology (OT) or plant floor systems to their IT systems.
Convergence requires expertise in IoT hardware, embedded software, wireless connectivity, back-end cloud software, IoT protocols, and IoT cybersecurity. Most industrial companies are in no position to quickly obtain the expertise needed to build this infrastructure, pandemic or not. However, new tech is helping to bridge the gap. Three new solutions in particular — IoT-focused cloud platforms, edge-to-cloud IIoT solutions, and API-based SaaS offerings — can abstract away most of the complexity involved in developing and deploying IIoT applications. With these solutions companies can quickly build, rapidly deploy, and easily maintain and update these IIoT applications, allowing them to focus on using the data from these applications to improve their business outcomes.
These solutions have been in demand well before the pandemic began. The pandemic is accelerating things. “We’ve seen industrial companies taking a mixed approach of both deploying tech to enable remote and distanced maintenance, support and collaboration, while also shifting, and in many cases, slowing processes to enable safety as these new solutions are brought online,” he said.