Assisted reality brings hybrid working to frontline staff

15 November 2021

Working from home might suit office workers but it's not usually a possibility for frontline staff, though this could soon change, writes Jon Arnold

INSIGHTFUL PUNDITS from all business sectors have speculated on the future of work, post-pandemic. For office-based roles, where one has a desk, many public and private sector organisations have converted to a hybrid model of working. It’s clear to see why: companies and staff enjoy an improvement in productivity, reduced overheads, a reduction in pollution and traffic congestion, and the holy grail of flexibility and freedom. 

In a recent report assessing the post-pandemic economy, the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company said: “Considering only remote work that can be done without a loss of productivity, we find that about 20 to 25% of the workforces in advanced economies could work from home between three and five days a week.”

While office jobs are in the spotlight when the subject of hybrid working arises, it’s important that we ask what the future of work looks like for frontline workers. It is a question that must be addressed because while many industries – including Oil and Gas, Logistics and Transportation, and Manufacturing and Automotive – are embracing hybrid working in the office, in conjunction with digital transformation initiatives, frontline workers are keen to understand how they, too, can be included.

Hybrid work was not an option

Working from home isn’t an option for frontline workers. In fact, frontline workers may not even be able to enjoy hybrid work. While hybrid work and digital transformation has the promise to streamline every facet of a business, we will only realise the full benefits if we include deskless workers in the overall corporate strategy. Every worker deserves to enjoy the power of digital collaboration tools like Teams, Zoom, and the like. It is here that technology – in the form of ruggedised, hands-free wearable devices – begins to bridge the divide between the frontline worker and the ‘knowledge worker’.

Ruggedised tablets and extended reality (XR) technologies such as virtual reality (VR) were an early promise to bring frontline workers into the digital age. However, the makers seem to have overlooked one key user requirement: a frontline worker's hands are fundamental for performing their job, yet their safety and efficiency is compromised when trying to type or scroll while working. Because of this safety issue, it soon became apparent that ruggedised tablets and XR technologies were inappropriate for the unique needs of industrial applications. To address this, another wearable came into the fray – assisted reality.

Assisted reality underpins hands-free wearable devices. The technology lets frontline workers access information with an unobstructed field of view, controlling what is seen on their display with their voice, rather than by hand. Using a wearable, assisted reality device – with voice-controlled, hands-free access to digital documents, files, and colleagues – a frontline worker is not only safety-compliant but has also become a knowledge worker. This is a major reason why assisted reality is fast becoming the XR technology of choice in safety-critical environments. 

Assisted reality enables hybrid work

Assisted reality enables something akin to hybrid work in industrial use cases. With a frontline worker relaying what they can see to a colleague, anywhere in the world, remote inspections can be conducted using the technology. The technology gives colleagues a real-time view of what the frontline worker can see, proving that geographical distance between them is no longer a barrier to productivity, efficiency, or digital transformation on the frontline. 

Assisted reality grew to prominence during the pandemic. Companies impacted by severe travel restrictions were quick to adopt it to maintain essential services for their customers while enjoying a significant reduction in travel costs and CO2 emissions. 

It is now apparent that assisted reality wearables are here to stay and offer a new and improved way of working for frontline workers akin to the hybrid model enjoyed by office workers.

Jon Arnold is VP of sales, EMEA, RealWear Inc.