Yet the discussion about work from home is not new. Work psychologists have already been concerned with questions about productivity in home offices for a longer time: Does it have disadvantages when the living room is within easy reach? Or, on the opposite, does the short journey to your desk at home have unforeseen advantages?
Home office employees are more productive!Studies by the International Labour Organization (ILO) show that home workers are particularly productive. On the one hand, this is due to less distraction. Numerous, time-consuming meetings are no longer necessary and high noise levels, especially in open-plan offices, can be avoided. On the other hand, the better and more flexible organisation of working time has a positive effect on employee satisfaction and productivity. According to studies, the number of sick days in the home office is also significantly lower. A worker who is obliged to be present is 11.9 days sick per year on average, while home workers are only 7.7 days sick. Nevertheless, almost two thirds of home workers prefer their office as a place of work. The reason for this is primarily the lack of communication and interaction with colleagues in the home office.
The developments around COVID-19 have quickly made employers think about elements of New Work. The seriousness of the situation forced many companies to implement these concepts directly and to introduce digital, agile ways of working from the home office. Due to the pandemic, one in three employees was introduced to the possibility of using a home office for the very first time, for many others the home office regulations are expanded. By working from home, physical contact can be avoided and companies can prevent quarantine or even temporary lockdowns.
However, by no means all jobs are suitable for being moved to the home office!It is well known that professional groups such as cashiers and medics are naturally excluded from the possibility of working at home. But also machine operators, assembly workers, mechatronic engineers, maintenance technicians and other employees of the mechanical engineering industry cannot simply switch to home office. They are bound to their workplace and have to be on site every day so that companies can remain productive. For example, production employees ensure through their work that operational procedures and processes are sustained.
Imagine a medium-sized company in mechanical engineering: The management and administration have been in home office for more than 2 months. The management, engineering, sales and service departments also work at home. Only the employees in directly value-adding areas such as production, assembly or maintenance physically enter the production facilities every single morning. They are exposed to direct contact with colleagues on a daily basis - often in small shifts and provided with face masks to minimize the risk of infection with COVID-19.
But how does the current situation change the work of people who create the actual economic value?The important contact with home-based management departments is missing and operational processes can be slowed down by a lack of exchange with colleagues. Machine acceptance testing with customers is often not possible and a four-eye principle is difficult to realize with the necessary distance.
These challenges are often everyday life on the shop floor in the current situation. Office scale conference tools or apps from the private sector are approaches to find a quick solution for the above-mentioned operational communication challenges. In this way, managers could at least participate to a limited degree in the daily routine on the shop floor. Yet these tools quickly reach their limits, some of them have serious security gaps, do not map the workflows taking place on the shop floor and also do not enable systematic documentation.
Augmented Reality (AR) based software platforms provide significantly more possibilities than a simple video callThe linking of management areas with colleagues in production is enabled via an innovative platform and supported by mobile devices such as smart phones, tablets or smart glasses. In this way, despite distance rules, the cross-eye principle and communication with experts can be made possible and all those involved would be able to participate in maintenance, inspections or troubleshooting in real time.
AR-based remote support can therefore enable production staff to carry out their work as usual or even more productively and efficiently. Not only unplanned downtime can be avoided - but other machine-related processes such as audits, commissioning, machine acceptance and even training can be performed.
A module for step-by-step instructions and workflows can partially or completely substitute the required contact to colleagues in the home office. Standard processes can be digitally covered and can be accessed via mobile devices by employees in production and manufacturing directly at the machine. Setup processes, maintenance procedures, safety inspections, but also the training of new employees can take place without the expert in the home office.