The COVID-19 outbreak has been a major shock for the European industrial companies. Many businesses are experiencing economic difficulties as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and have had to temporarily suspend or substantially reduce their activities and the working hours of their staff. Mobility restrictions, social distancing and obligations for the protection of vulnerable groups -especially older people- have urged employers to look for alternative ways of continuing their business, such as offering the possibility of remote working or else teleworking.
In terms of social consequences, COVID-19 has put extra pressure in challenges related to the demographic change in Europe, with the continuously growing older population. The European ageing population, beyond the threat to life from COVID-19, is now additionally facing risk of unemployment, discrimination and isolation.
Even more, older workers will be the last to return to work when the containment measures will start to get lifted as they constitute a high-risk group and they often suffer from aggravating factors or chronic diseases. This is expected to lead to a massive absence of elderly workers in workplaces for an unknown duration, which will deprive the respective companies of the experience, skills and know-how of a large part of their employees.
Affected employers will look for solutions to issues that will arise in terms of (i) facilitating older employees to continue working without having a physical presence in the workplace for as long as the measures last; (ii) assisting and training younger employees that will be forced to take over the roles and responsibilities of older employees staying at home; (iii) maintaining and making available the organizational knowledge which is usually in the possession of older employees.
Based on the above, it becomes more than evident that the COVID-19 pandemic, calls for new solutions in the workplace such as Ageing@Work, and it came as no surprise that some factories have already contacted the Ageing@Work project to try some of its solutions in their sites. Within the context of Ageing@Work, four core productivity enhancement tools will be developed with the aim to improve the working experience and elevate the productivity within a flexible work context, absolutely relevant to abovementioned priorities and needs emerged within the COVID-19 crisis.
A bi-directional AR and VR based telepresence tool that will help the older worker into remote collaboration, supporting functionalities from simple teleconferences made more realistic to remote demonstration either from, or to, the older worker.
A personalized VR and AR based lifelong training tool to remove training barriers and promote knowledge, facilitating the older worker into the learning of new tasks and processes that may need to be addressed as time goes by.
A knowledge sharing toolkit, easing the way that knowledge and experience gained by the older workers is transferred to younger workers as well as allowing new knowledge gathered by younger workers to be provided to the ageing workers in an understandable, intuitive and easy-to-use way.
A situation awareness enhancement tool, boosting situation awareness whether the worker is on-site or working remotely. This tool will provide the workers with information streams regarding the task under way, personalised reminders regarding other scheduled tasks, as well as notifications highlighting imminent dangers or accident related factors.