Widespread remote work initiatives could be here to stay, even after the pandemic has receded enough for workplaces to open up. According to a report from Gartner, 41% of employees are likely to work remotely at least some of the time post-COVID-19, up from 30% before the virus took hold. In fact, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey recently announced that all Twitter and Square employees are now able to work from home “forever,” while CEO of Shopify Tobi Lutke declared “office centricity is over.”
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the numerous benefits that both companies and teams experience from the flexibility of distributed work policies, including a boost to productivity and a reduction in overhead.
In a number of industries, IoT can play a crucial role in this transition. Teams in sectors such as manufacturing, healthcare, and supply chain can leverage IoT technologies to facilitate remote work. And as workforces enter the “new normal” that lies ahead, IoT devices in smart cities and homes can help them make this shift as smooth as possible too.
Let’s dive deep into how IoT is facilitating remote work now and will continue to power the “new normal” post-crisis.
How IoT Powers Remote Work
In manufacturing, IoT is allowing teams to do their jobs from distributed locations. When technicians either can’t be on-site due to health concerns or simply find it more convenient to work remotely, they can keep operations running smoothly thanks to remote monitoring solutions.
These solutions, which leverage IoT sensors and devices, can indicate when machines will need a part repaired or downtime, allowing employees to take action remotely and maintain productivity. Instead of deploying humans to those locations to perform inspections, Industrial IoT (IIoT)-connected sensors are able to deliver real-time information on overall conditions and detect vibrations that indicate malfunction.
In healthcare, organizations are using IoT-enabled remote patient monitoring (RPM) to virtually keep track of patients’ physiological conditions. With the stream of real-time data generated by the devices, physicians and caregivers can make fast decisions around diagnoses and catch worsening conditions earlier.
By providing patients with tablets and RPM equipment while they were at home, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center was able to reduce the risk of hospital readmissions by 76%, while keeping patient satisfaction scores over 90%. In the context of remote work, this reduces the need for healthcare professionals on-site and allows them to respond to patient needs without being physically present.
The pandemic has only accelerated the already existent trend of IoT adoption in healthcare. In fact, 79% of healthcare providers surveyed in this Gartner survey said they are already using IoT in their production process. One example of IoT being used to reduce contact during the COVID-19 comes from Medisanté, whose connected RPM devices have allowed physicians to gain access to real-time patient data within a secure cloud infrastructure.
In the supply chain and logistics sector, companies can leverage IoT devices to remotely track their assets as they move through the supply chain, reducing the need for physical inspections and data-recording on the part of employees. These devices provide real-time data on aspects such as the location, tampering, temperature, and container integrity of the inventory. Armed with this information, teams can make proactive decisions to prevent damage and drive efficiency, all from a distributed location.
With the plethora of data now available––which is only set to increase exponentially––thanks to IoT technologies, businesses should be leveraging these insights and turning them into optimization initiatives. With the addition of AI to IoT, organizations across industries can make agile, informed decisions based on IoT device data, and preempt and predict future scenarios.
IoT Allows Home Workers to Adjust to the “New Normal”
As well as directly facilitating remote work, IoT is also providing the conditions for remote workers to adjust to this new reality as we look ahead to the post-pandemic world. For example, the development of Smart Cities is contributing to maintaining safety and security for citizens with the help of IoT devices.
IoT technologies allow governments to monitor social distancing and conduct contact tracing to fight the spread of the virus, with South Korean cities shaping up to be a prime example of how IoT can support public safety. IoT-powered devices are also providing a way to track COVID-19 through connected thermometers, which offer guidance to individuals on whether or not they should seek out medical care.
In addition, smart devices in people’s homes are allowing them to work from home more comfortably and efficiently — both in terms of time and cost savings. These include smart refrigerators that take stock of supplies and order groceries online, devices such as the Amazon Echo that allow users to control other devices from a central hub, smart thermostats and plugs that help home workers optimize energy usage, and smart bulbs to control light exposure at different times of the day.
Security: Paramount for Safe IoT Usage
With the potential for such an uptick in IoT usage for governments, businesses, and consumers alike, security must remain a priority in order to prevent hacks and keep workers and citizens safe.
Those companies leveraging IoT devices for the first time to facilitate the “new normal” must develop enterprise-wide frameworks for IoT procurement, deployment, security, and monitoring to minimize exposure to hackers. In addition, IoT manufacturers must ensure that firmware undergoes thorough security reviews and provide low-level control of the hardware in order to protect users.
Palo Alto Networks’ research indicates that 57% of IoT devices are vulnerable to attack. Given the tendency of large scale crises to result in increased cyber-attacks, it’s more important than ever to ensure the security of cloud networks and IoT devices.
Looking ahead, IoT applications will continue to power these newfound circumstances as industries adapt and find ways to operate within the post-pandemic constraints. While the lack of certainty has delivered a huge blow to the economic landscape, what has become clear is our ability to use crises to drive innovation and uncover new and better solutions, be that in the workplace, in our cities, or at home. IoT will continue to play a foundational role in driving this forward.