Work-Life Strategies & Solutions

On the Evolution of Work Systems in the Digital Economy

Office Robot Avatars for Telecommuters

Which do you think is likely to occur first? Sophisticated, remote-controlled, look-alike robots becoming affordable to the average person or full-time telework (for jobs that can be done remotely) gaining widespread acceptance? I’ve often wondered this. If it’s the former, and since I’m petite in stature, I imagine I would stash my stand-in double in the workstation’s coat closet so it would be ready to warm that office chair bright and early! I’d command it to work, and I’d collect the paychecks from afar. I’ve often shared this fantasy in jest without knowing, until recently, that this idea has manifested into reality in the past several years. It’s called telepresence.

The following are video clips of such a robot developed by Willow Garage, and it seems to run smoothly.

Robots Changing the Face of Telecommuting

However, this recent (August 2012) footage of the QB-82 shows that there is still room for improvement. Notice how awkward navigation can be and the occasional Wi-Fi signal interruptions.

My Life as a Telecommuting Robot

Finally this performance review for IvanAnywhere is rather funny.

Some Internet commenters have rightly pointed out that many of us want to work from home in order to avoid office commotion and noise as some jobs are better performed in a peaceful, quiet environment allowing for better concentration and reflection. Thus, having to experience the office chatter and interruptions through robots goes against the whole purpose of working remotely. However, I don’t think this has to be an “all or nothing” issue. If such robots become sufficiently cost-effective,  even those of us who enjoy working in an isolated, quiet environment have some reason to use them sparingly and when it’s most important to (e.g., at important meetings, to establish a presence at the office from time to time). Finally, this technology is a great solution for those who can’t travel for whatever reason (e.g., disabilities, illness, etc.) and want to work from home but yet be fully integrated into the office scene. What are your thoughts?

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