Preparing for a remote workforce in 2021
Remote working has become the new normal for many organisations due to the current pandemic. Businesses have had to adapt workplace practices and implement new processes to accommodate the mass move to working from home. In many cases, embracing a mobile workforce has become easier and has allowed organisations to be more productive. However, the pandemic highlighted how ill-prepared companies were for remote working. One in five businesses (18 per cent) felt they were mostly or completely unprepared for having their employees working from home.
As we emerge out of our second national lockdown in the UK and look to the year ahead, organisations are being presented with more opportunities to revise their workplace policies and enable workers to set up an office – no matter their location – and in a safe and compliant manner. With the right technological investments and best practices, businesses can be responsive to new developments, while also accommodating changing employee expectations.
The ability to work anytime and anywhere
The leap to remote working has meant that businesses went from managing one or a few offices, to potentially hundreds of new ones. Alongside this, employees’ expectations for work routines have changed. Many are favouring flexible working hours and being able to access their work at any place and any time. Organisations should look to adopt an agile, flexible approach for this changing workforce that embraces the ‘anytime, anywhere and any-device’ model of working. If we have learnt anything from this year of forced remote working, it’s that worker productivity has not been reduced due to weak work ethics, if productivity was down it was usually due to inadequate software solutions.
Through investment in best-of-breed document management tools that can seamless integrate with applications and IT ecosystems, as well as departments and teams, business leaders can support every employee and their individual circumstances, while ensuring business continuity.
The shift to remote working has also highlighted the importance of cloud in streamlining workflows and processes. With the cloud, employees are no longer bound by internal networks, meaning that work can continue to happen for businesses anywhere. It can also be more cost-effective for businesses, as more organisations are adopting subscription-based models depending on the needs of the business, rather than making huge and unnecessary investments. Additionally, cloud-based services are ideal for every shape of organisation – whether it is growing, fluctuating or slowing down – organisations can be more agile and reactive to different paces of business.
Security and compliance
It’s vital that organisations also look at the security and compliance issues of a remote workforce. From accidental breaches, data mismanagement to access control, businesses not only need to have the right tools in place, but also the best practices, to minimise risk and damage. Documents are a core element that keep business running and these should always be protected. Businesses should look to implement a solution that can guard against both deliberate and accidental breaches, restrict access to the relevant parties, as well as safely store important data and documents.
Even with the best corporate security and compliance measures in place, a business must also better inform employees on how to protect themselves at home. In addition to regularly training employees and updating security practices, employees should also invest in tools such as virtual private networks (VPNs), password managers, as well as only log on via a secure Wi-Fi network, so that they can continue to work safely at home in the new year.
In addition, regulatory requirements such as GDPR and other mandates do not have to slow down an organisation. Businesses can overcome compliance and security hurdles by modelling digital document management and workﬂow automation around these rules, so that business leaders and employees are always on top of the latest requirements and minimises the chances of a breach or fine. With Brexit just around the corner, UK business owners may be faced with another set of compliance mandates. Investing in a document management solution that encrypts data, has dedicated data centers for global regions and is ultimately designed to be the most secure repository for their data, is important. Automating tedious, manual tasks associated with compliance would help employees focus on knowledge-driven work and critical decision-making, enabling greater creativity and productivity no matter where they are based.
Seamless flow of information
Business is now happening everywhere – whether that is still in the office, or in an employee’s home. For businesses to operate successfully in the new year, it’s vital that information and work continues to flow effortlessly between colleagues, teams and decision makers, no matter the location, device or time. Remote working is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, so organisations must be adaptable to this new pace of productivity – to enable business continuity and a successful remote workforce.
By Eugene Young, country director, UK/Ireland, DocuWare
Amazon test new technology to improve employee safety
At the Amazon Robotics and Advanced Technology labs in Boston, and Northern Italy, team members are testing and developing new technologies in order to help to make employees’ jobs safer, these include technologies that help move carts and packages through Amazon facilities.
Recently the safety of Amazon's warehouses has drawn scrutiny. On June 1, the Washington Post's Jay Greene and Chris Alcantara published findings from an analysis of Occupational Safety and Health Administration data showing Amazon's serious injury rates are nearly double those at other companies' facilities.
A spokesperson from Amazon said the company spent more than $1 billion last year on safety measures, and hired more than 6,200 employees to a group dedicated to workplace health and safety.
One innovation being tested by Amazon, which is in early development, is the use of motion-capture technology to assess the movement of volunteer employees in a lab setting. These employees perform tasks that are common in many Amazon facilities, such as the movement of totes, which carry products through robotic fulfillment centers.
The motion-capture software enables Amazon scientists and researchers to more accurately compare data captured in a lab environment to industry standards rather than other modelling tools traditionally used by ergonomists.
“With this data, visualisations, and employee feedback, we are looking to identify relatively simple changes that can make a big impact,” said Kevin Keck, worldwide director of Advanced Technology at Amazon. “Something as simple as changing the position of handles on totes may help lower the risk of injuries to our employees at a massive scale.”
Autonomous Robots creating new paths to safety
In order to reduce the need for employees to reach up or bend down when retrieving items, Amazon is testing a new workstation system called “Ernie.” According to the company Ernie takes totes off of a robotic shelf and uses a robotic arm to deliver it to employees, so they can remain in a more comfortable and stable position.
“We’re known for being passionate about innovating for customers, but being able to innovate with robotics for our employees is something that gives me an extra kick of motivation each day,” said Keck. “The innovation with a robot like Ernie is interesting because while it doesn’t make the process go any faster, we’re optimistic, based on our testing, it can make our facilities safer for employees.”
“Bert” is one of Amazon’s first Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs), and is being tested to autonomously navigate through facilities with Amazon-developed advanced safety, perception, and navigation technology. In the future, it is thought that an employee would be able to summon Bert to carry items across a facility.
‘Scooter’ and ‘Kermit’ are two other robots that also operate autonomously, and are both transport cars. The carts are used to carry empty totes and packages through our facilities.
In a blog post the company said: ‘By having Autonomously Guided Carts (AGCs) like Scooter and Kermit perform physical tasks, we believe we can make our facilities safer and enable our employees to focus on jobs that require their critical thinking skills. In addition, using an AGC like Scooter to pull carts through our facilities reduces the risk of strains on our employees, or even collisions. We currently plan to deploy Scooter to at least one Amazon facility this year.’
Amazon began using robotics in its facilities in 2012, and since then they have added more than 1 million jobs worldwide while simultaneously deploying 350,000 mobile drive unit robots.
“The role robotics and advanced technology can play in not only innovating for customers, but helping make our facilities safer, is a massive motivation for me and my team,” said Keck. “The health and safety of our employees is our number one priority. By listening to them, innovating on their behalf, and driving new technologies into our facilities over the coming months and years, I’m confident we’ll make a big contribution to our goal of reducing recordable incidents by 50% by 2025.”