MWC Session Recap: 3 Ways IoT Is Changing the Employee Experience

COVID transformed employee behavior and expectations, with workers shifting remote overnight. Now, employers are considering how to leverage emerging technologies like IoT and artificial intelligence (AI) to keep employees engaged and motivated.

A session at MWC Barcelona, “The Internet of Behaviour,” offered glimpses of the future of tech in various settings and how they will contribute to the employee experience.

1.  THE HOME

Pre-COVID, many office spaces took on aspects of the home, even providing places where workers could do their laundry, according to Colin Angle, CEO of iRobot. But the pandemic reversed the trend, with the home reclaiming its role and taking on those of the office.

However, the technologies that build the smart home haven’t yet delivered on their promise to society, Angle said.

“We’ve got an increasingly good toolbox” of technologies like cloud and AI, Angle said, “but then we use those tools to create a dizzying array of point solutions.”

Home users could have 50 different apps to control the various smart home products they own. But the solutions don’t work together, which poses a challenge.

“I think that the way for smart homes to move forward is to start creating smart homes that program themselves,” said Angle.

Instead of depending on the owner to program it, the smart home could have a better understanding of the owner’s preferences and what devices are in the home that can work together to meet them.

The next step in smart homes? Evolving them from “just a collection of stuff” to a “robot system” with system-level integrations, said Angle.

2.  THE HOSPITAL

Digital transformation has already made dramatic changes in healthcare, and it promises more. Stacy Shulman, vice president of Intel’s Internet of Things group, said that when her company surveyed hospitals in 2018, less than 40 percent had adopted AI. Repeating the survey post-COVID, that adoption rate soared to over 80 percent, she said.

But that transformation can come with its own set of challenges, particularly for healthcare organizations.

“Adoption is not easy,” said Fabio Potenti, chief medical operating officer at Cleveland Clinic Florida. “Most physicians see new technology as a source of pain.”

Healthcare systems should be designed not only with the patient in mind, but also the caregiver for ease of use, he added. Putting new technology in the hands of a physician can be like having them ride an elephant, Potenti said: the solution may be powerful, but if it’s hard to steer, the physician will become tired and let the solution just go wherever it may.

Intel’s Shulman agreed that the user experience will be paramount for scaling technology adoption across healthcare organizations.

“We don’t want our doctors spending most of their time trying to figure out the computer in front of them,” Shulman said. The aim should be to give them the patient information they need to make decisions, without having to “spelunk through the system,” and use AI to streamline workflows, she added.

“Let’s not try to find new fancy ways to use artificial intelligence in medicine; let’s go to things that are very practical and get skilled clinicians…doing their work and giving them the information they need,” said Shulman.

Potenti offered up an example of how Cleveland Clinic streamlined processes through automation. Previously, when patients underwent surgery, their journey to the operating room and back was documented manually. The hospital wanted to use automation to track that process more efficiently and accurately, Potenti said.

Cleveland Clinic worked with Intel to use RFID tracking for patients, which not only increased efficiency but allowed for real-time communications. For example, families in waiting rooms could see the patient’s process on a display with automatic updates, and surgeons would receive a text message notifying them when their patient had arrived.

3.  THE WORKPLACE

Closing out the session, Jon Pershke, Lenovo vice president of strategy and emerging business development, examined more angles of how emerging technologies are changing employee behaviors, including in the physical workplace. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in particular can give workers hands-free assistance with complex tasks. These technologies will come into play more with the coming labor shortage in many professions.

“On a broader level, we expect skilled labor shortages as Baby Boomers leave the workplace,” said Pershke. “Their Millennial and Gen Z replacements are digital natives and expect to leverage technology at work.”

Offering examples, Pershke said VR can assist factory workers by providing immersive, remote training by expert with no travel required. AR can also provide on-the-job assistance by allowing experts “to get online and looking over the worker’s virtual shoulder” to help them and provide training. Manuals and documentation can also be provided “in real time, hands-free,” Pershke said.

Now it remains to be seen how employee behavior changes once these smart homes and offices become reality.