How robots can help boost employee happiness and productivity

There has been a lot of concern about robots stealing our jobs; but a new piece of robotic technology could not only help people to stay in work, but make them happier while doing so.

According to Business Insider, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been trialling a new scheme at its Sloan School of Management that allows employees to work from home at least two days, with the option of making an appearance in robot form if they feel like they're missing out on the fun.

The growing trend for flexible working means that more workers are choosing to work remotely; but it can lead to feelings of disengagement and a sense of disconnect from colleagues and office events.

Luckily for staff at the MIT, they can now use a robot on a wheels - featuring a live web-cam screen on the top - to feel as if they are really in the office, and to remind others that they still exist. Remote workers can control the robot from their homes, moving around the office freely to join in with meetings, collaborative projects and even hang out on lunch breaks.

The program's executive director, Peter Hirsch, saw the technology being used during a conference last year and could immediately see the benefits.

With video conferencing, he explains, remote employees can often become 'just a face on the screen' and get ignored by others in the conversation. But because these movable robots take up a physical space, it's almost as if that person is actually in the room.

He was also surprised at how quickly staff adapted to having them around the office, despite their amused reactions initially.

So, as more and more people choose to work remotely, we could see more of these robots cropping up in offices all over the world - not replacing humans, but improving our working lives.

Employee benefits of the future

From egg freezing to charging your electric car for free, workers of the future will be granted a host of strange new benefits by their employers, according to a new study reported on the Employee Benefits website.

The Society of Human Resources Managers (SHRM) recently released its '2016 Employee Benefits' report, which looks at how workplace benefits have changed in the US over the past five years, and offers predictions for how they are likely to progress.

Crucially, the study found that employee wellbeing is becoming an increasingly important issue for most companies; in fact, the number of US employers offering a general wellness program has risen from 58% in 2008 to 70% this year.

Researchers put this trend down to growing healthcare costs, which means that employers are focusing on preventative measures to improve the health of their workforce. A RAND Corporation study found, for example, that each dollar invested in wellbeing provides an ROI of $1.50 - sometimes more, if the company targets chronic diseases.

Wearable technology - such as fitness bands - and organized fitness contests are two of the more bizarre benefits relating to health and wellness. The report found that fitness bands or activity trackers had already gained 13% employer participation, and fitness challenges had achieved 34%.

There are other quirkier benefits that are beginning to emerge as a result of improving technology and changing work patterns, some of which are due to become more popular in the years to come. According to the report, these include: electric vehicle charging; free shuttles to and from work; non-medical egg freezing; paid surrogacy leave; unlimited vacation policies; student loan repayments; and even free haircuts carried out on site.

Evren Esen, the SHRM's director of survey programs, predicts that general wellness programs will continue growing in popularity through 2016 and beyond, as companies compete to attract and retain the best talent - talent that is interested in more than just pay.

"Employers will realize that in order to be competitive, they will need to offer wellness programs [...] I think we could get close to 100% of organizations having wellness programs," she explained.

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Book A Room At A Hotel Staffed Entirely By Robots

The next time you visit a hotel you could be greeted by a robot dinosaur on reception; that is, if a new hospitality workforce being trialled in Japan catches on with others in the industry.

As CNN recently reported, a five-star hotel in Japan staffed only by robots recently opened its doors to guests at Huis Ten Bosch, a theme park in Nagasaki Prefecture.

Dubbed the world's first robot hotel, the Henn-na Hotel - which translates to Strange Hotel in English - is now taking reservations through its website - although bookings will be made on a bidding basis during peak season.

Upon entering the establishment, Japanese guests will be greeted by robots who look and talk just like real humans - well, almost - while English speaking guests are welcomed by a robotic dinosaur wearing a jaunty hat and bow tie.

There are also non-humanoid robots capable of carrying out tasks ranging from handling and storing luggage, to cleaning the 72 rooms within the hotel. A further 72 rooms are due to be added in the second phase of development, scheduled for 2016.

Hideo Sawada, the president of Huis Ten Bosch, said that they planned to eventually run 90% of the hotel using only robots, and in the future would begin rolling out the concept across 1,000 hotels throughout the world.

The company also claims that the hotel is the most technically advanced low-cost hotel in the sector, with costs kept down thanks to facial-recognition technology being used for room access, and in-room facilities being kept to a minimum - guests can simply request items from their room's tablet.

Energy saving features - such as solar power and radiation panels in rooms to adjust the temperature to the guests' body heat - will also help to keep operating costs as low as possible.

So, if the model proves successful then it looks like a robot hotel could be coming to a town near you.