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Cobots at work: Advancements in workplace technology  

Telepresence robot advancement is helping to establish a better remote worker experience in the workplace.

A robot with a t-shirt on and a display.

The labor shortage that began with Covid and left more than 11 million jobs in the United States this past summer may be heating up.

Earlier this September, over four million Americans quit their jobs — a Great Resignation record.

Meanwhile, the effect of higher minimum wage laws in states like California remains unknown, even as quiet quitting and cyberloafing bedevil employers.

To compound these matters, the shrunken workforce phenomenon has spread to countries from South Korea to Germany, where staffing shortages reportedly cost companies $85 billion annually.

But one company that has already established an impressive record of filling HR gaps may have a technological solution.

robot and man with a person in the screen

Cyberbacker, a virtual assistance company that connects workers around the world, and mainly in the Philippines, with US businesses and entrepreneurs, has begun utilizing Ohmni Telepresence robots to integrate their so-called “Cyberbackers” directly into physical work settings.

Telepresence technology is straightforward. A nimble robot, gripping an iPad or smartphone in its “hands” and equipped with two cameras of its own, moves via remote control around a work setting.

Its operator can “look” in multiple directions. It can also move around the office, taking part in a board meeting, for example, an impromptu water cooler discussion or an office appointment.

Cyberbacker’s founder and CEO, real estate impresario Craig Goodliffe, says that the benefits of “telepresence robots” are apparent.

“There are so many instances where you don’t need a physical presence per se, but at the same time a Zoom or FaceTime meeting does not quite do the trick,” Goodliffe says. “These robots put a remote worker into the physical mix, where they are able to co-work with a team and/or interact virtually, but physically with clients. It’s just a really cool and effective way to make people feel as though they are working with a real human being, because they are.”

Goodliffe stresses that a real person behind the machine can be held accountable, just like a regular employee.

Robot looking up
Image: Unsplash

And industry experts have said that telepresence robots tend to inspire customers and co-workers to be more present during what are still essentially virtual interactions.

That’s mainly because the robots are just as autonomous, spontaneous, and intelligent as their operators. Goodliffe calls his telepresence robots “cobots,” short for “collaborative robots.”

He says they can go a long way to addressing the labor shortage, just as his 1,000-plus Cyberbackers have over the past several years.

“Imagine a retail store in a mall,” he says. “Right now, it is probably short-staffed. It may have shortened its hours or closed entirely on certain days of the week. But now, that store can be staffed with far fewer people; maybe one or two human beings working alongside twice that many cobots who are capable of providing customer service on demand.”

While Hollywood has made much of the “rise of the machines” as something to be feared, Goodliffe says the rise of the cobot is more about embracing technology — like artificial intelligence, or AI — that allows human beings to be more efficient and more productive, rather than replacing them altogether.

“We’ve always thought of the labor force as beating hearts,” he says, “that’s how the Labor Department measures it. Productivity is a separate metric. What cobots do is marry the two, so it is kind of reinventing the traditional perspective on what a labor force is.”

Goodliffe points to his virtualization company as grounds for optimism.

“Cyberbacker is an innovative, mission-driven company for connecting small to medium-sized businesses with the top-flight support, human staff that they need in order to grow. At the end of the day, we are all about people helping people. To the extent that robots can help us do that, while at the same time solving a pressing global issue, of course we are excited.”

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