The Rise of the Remote Workforce

For many industries, the remote workforce is not a new development. If you don’t deal with physical inventory or have a physical store location where you sell things, it is already well known that a remote workforce may be the solution for you.

By creating a remote workforce, you will do several things for your business.

  • Save Overhead: If you don’t need desks, chairs, computers, and other physical needs for your employees, you can use those financial resources elsewhere.
  • Make Employees Happy: Remote workers are often happier and more productive, helping your bottom line
  • Increase Employee Retention: Remote workers also often stay with the job longer. This not only saves you money, but it helps you provide a better customer experience as well.

However, new technology and new trends now make it possible for more than just these businesses to employ remote workforces.

Warehousing, factories, and other production industries now have the capability of being managed remotely.

Web HMI

Human machine interfaces (HMI) have, until recently, been computer or server based, and required that the user (the human part of the interface) be on site. However, the introduction of web HMI means that the human can be anywhere and access the interface on any device that can run a web browser.

This means everything from tablets to mobile devices, anything from a laptop to an IOS or Android device can be used to receive alerts, monitor, control, and even create reports on networked devices.

This is thanks in large part to big data, and the processes that make it usable in real time.

Mobile SCADA

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition software has also long been PC based, and one reason is security concerns, which are legitimate. SCADA systems control many sensitive systems, like water and power delivery and other essential systems.

The question becomes if it is safe or not to allow users to have control of these things from mobile devices and how much. Should they have read/write access, or access to only certain features and certain segments of data? How much control should they have?

On the other hand, there are several pain points that can be addressed by this kind of software as well, and that allow a worker access to data previously unavailable except on site.

  • A field operator must call the control room to ask for the reading on certain piece of equipment (i.e. valve, switch) he/she is looking at or manipulating.
  • A field operator must call the control room to confirm whether a certain piece equipment has truly been shut down for maintenance work because it sounds like it is still running.
  • A field technician unknowingly works on a live line because the control room has shut down the wrong line!
  • A field operator must call the control room to describe equipment schematics because he/she has no access to an HMI or drawings on the floor at that moment.
  • A field operator must call the control room to pull out the manual for a piece of equipment because the panel on the one he/she is looking at is different from the others he/she is used to.
  • A field operator must describe over the radio what he/she is seeing – lights on a panel, leaks, etc.
  • An operator must take a check-list out to the field, return to control room and enter the results into a form or spreadsheet, or into the control HMI.
  • Constant calling back and forth between field and control room when testing or calibrating a measurement or control element.

These are legitimate pain points, and if your system is properly configured and has a role-based user access control system, there are many of these you can eliminate and even more things you can do.

Viewing Documents and Media

No matter what your industry, from contracting to real estate, viewing documents and media remotely along with being able to fill them out electronically and even complete checklists makes remote work much more practical.

It also saves time, money, and paper. Many documents do not need to be printed any more, and especially not to be taken into the field where they are less likely to remain intact and reusable.

Collaboration

One of the biggest things in hiring and maintaining a remote workforce is communication and collaboration. This is made easier by technology and several communication applications. Whatever your industry, there is one out there that is right for you.

Users can work on the same document at the same time using programs like Google Drive or Microsoft’s Onedrive. Chat programs like Slack or Google Hangouts and project management software like Asana help teams share documents and files, communicate in real time, and assign and complete project tasks.

Remote workforces used to be limited to a select few industries, but now nearly any business can benefit from at least a partially remote workforce by using modern technology and mobile communication. Even industry has been empowered by web HMI and mobile SCADA.

Your business too can benefit from hiring and maintaining a remote workforce for many tasks, no matter what industry you are in.