Transitioning from Remote to Socially Distant at Work: Interview with ProGlove's Tracy Hanson

Written BY

Emily Friedman

June 17, 2020

We recently had the opportunity to interview Tracy Hansen, President of North America and Global CMO at ProGlove, about the role of wearables in the coronavirus pandemic, particularly in the transition back to work following the quarantine. Learn about ProGlove’s new app and check out the company’s products and solutions at EWTS Everywhere this October.

Q: To begin, could you provide a little background on yourself and your career? How did you end up at ProGlove?

A: Sure thing. My name is Tracy Hansen; I’m the President of ProGlove. It was a pretty straightforward path to here when I look back and connect all the dots. I wrote my graduate school thesis on ISO 9000, which was the blending of business, process and international work. From there, I secured a job at NetApp, a storage company based out of Silicon Valley. I worked there for close to fifteen years. While I was at NetApp, I met a gentleman named Andreas Koenig, so just remember that name. I spent quite a bit of time at NetApp growing the startup into a $6B multinational business. We went from fewer to 200 people to more than 14,000 during my tenure, and I rose from the ground floor all the way to VP of Global Marketing.

From there, I jumped around a little bit; I went to another $6B company, then decided to get back to my startup roots and joined a startup in San Diego focused on marketing. There, I reinforced my love for marketing, data, operations and process. Fast forward a little bit, I got a call from Andreas saying, “I’ve joined this company and I think you’d absolutely love it.” I looked up ProGlove and it harkened back to my days at NetApp – Industry 4.0, really thinking about data in ways that help businesses thrive – so I would be able to take all the things I’d learned, bring it to a startup that’s looking to move into its scale-up stage, and help build a presence in North America. I jumped at the opportunity, not only to work with Andreas again but to really embrace the philosophy that ProGlove brought to the table: Human-centered design and the whole concept of supply chain. It was just the perfect storm of areas I love with leadership I trust and can get behind.

Q: Can you tell us more about ProGlove? What’s the company’s signature product / mission?

A: ProGlove is a scale-up company based out of Munich, Germany. Our signature product is a wearable scanner derived from Intel’s 2014 Make It Wearable Contest. The challenge was to take an idea and make it wearable and our founders came in third place. They then turned their idea into a legitimate business for solving user problems on the frontline and in the supply chain; and they’re hyper-focused on the user so human-centered design is at the core of what we do and represent.

It all comes to life when people put on our wearable scanner; it transforms the user in really meaningful ways. We had one customer who reported a team member started doing cartwheels when he put on the device, like “look what I can do wearing this!” Another customer had planned to share the devices among teams, but the first team that got the device was like “Yeah, no, we’re not giving it up. The other team has to buy their own devices.” That’s our signature, creating the wearable product that people love and the best wearable experience possible.

Q: Who are ProGlove’s customers? You mentioned supply chain so logistics, and who else?

A: We got our start in the automotive space: BMW was one of our earliest adopters and continues to be a major customer for us. We also work closely with Lufthansa in the aviation space across their entire operations, everything from baggage handling to mechanics. We’ve broadened quite well into the largest names in e-commerce who’re using us to fulfill orders and keep their supply chain moving from front to back office. Earlier this year, we released a new version of our wearable scanner with a display on the front, which unlocks a lot of use cases for frontline retailers. Granted, many of these use cases got put on hold because of COVID; but at NRF there was massive excitement around it—now you could untether a frontline worker from a terminal and put them anywhere on the shop floor because the data’s on the back of their hand and paired with an Android in their pocket. It’s pretty smart; in fact, that’s one of our taglines: We make it smart.

So, we’ve got aviation, automotive, manufacturing and assembly, e-commerce and retail; we’re also excited about healthcare, giving frontline workers access to the same technology. When you think about the number of scans that take place in the creation of medical supplies, in hospitals themselves…healthcare is a growing space for us.

Q: When Coronavirus hit, how did your own business adapt? Did customers reach out to you for help in working under quarantine? I know you mentioned some use cases were put on pause, but were any created?

A: First, I have to say that I’m incredibly impressed by our operations team. When the virus hit, our VP of Operation had the foresight to shore up supplies. So as the news was emerging out of Wuhan, he’d ensured we’d remain production-ready through the rest of the year—just incredible foresight and action.

Next, Konstantin (the same gentleman) began to work on ‘what if’ scenarios: What if we have to send everyone home but we still need to keep up production? We put a plan into action, separating our production environment into three areas in our Munich facilities. By doing so, we managed to keep our production 100% online; and when we ultimately had to make the decision to send everyone home, we were able to keep the workforce that did stay on site safe and secure.

At the same time, our customers were going through similar things. As workers were sent home around the globe, customers were asking ‘what can we do?’ Konstatin wrote a blog post sharing our approach of dividing up operations into multiple locations with secure facilities; and a number of our partners actually adopted it.

Our customers did reach out to us, less about how they could work under quarantine but rather what were we doing to fulfil their orders. We had many orders that still needed to go out and they wanted to make sure we’d be able to support them and their frontline workers dealing with a lot of pressure and stress. I’m really pleased to say we were able to accommodate all of their requests; it wasn’t always easy but keeping our customers whole and productive with our technology was crucial. As a wearable scanner – with each person having their own wrap or glove or reel mount for it – customers wanted to be fully operational with this personal solution.

Q: As companies gradually return to work, how is ProGlove helping them maintain social distancing in the workplace? How did you develop ProGlove Connect Proximity?

A: We had a customer ask if something in our technology could help keep their employees safe. At the same exact time, Konstantin was looking around for a way to ensure our own employees stayed two meters apart. Since we have vibration on our wearable device, we thought ‘what if we made it so that we could activate it and when people are close together it vibrates or dings’. It was one of those ideas that formed because we needed it and our customers at the same time were asking if we could do this. Even a major aerospace company called and asked if we had a solution, so it was a combination of prospects looking for a solution, our customers looking for a solution and us needing a solution ourselves that made it evident we had a solution that could give workers immediate feedback when at risk. Not only that, it could be done in quiet and loud environments, and it gave companies peace of mind that they didn’t have to bring in another solution but could use what they already have.

"COVID-19 isn’t a time to figure out how to make money; it’s a time to help our customers, employees, prospects..."

Q: Why did you make the app free?

A: Because people need it. COVID-19 isn’t a time to figure out how to make money; it’s a time to help our customers, employees, prospects, anybody who needs it we want to make sure they have it. We believe humans are the center of the workforce and in order for that to be so you have to keep them safe. It was just natural for us to make it free.

Q: Can any business use it, beyond the industries you usually serve? It seems anybody going back into an office environment would need this.

A: Anybody can use it but right now it’s limited by one thing: It’s best tested and used on Android devices. You don’t even have to have our wearable scanner; we’ve made it so you can download the app on an Android device and have immediate access to proximity sensing/tracking. And then if you do have the wearable you get the added benefit of haptic, visual and audio alerts. Anyone can download it in any industry and as long as teammates are on the same Android solution it will work.

Q: What is phase two for ProGlove Connect Proximity?

A: I’d like to see iOS, for sure. And we’re introducing an update to our cloud platform for analytics; inside of that will have additional data capture capabilities. We’re really sensitive to GDPR data privacy and limiting personal data, but there is data that can be retrieved and is useful to those with access to our products in making their facilities more secure and workflows more streamlined. All these businesses bringing their frontline workers back need insight and intelligence to know what’s the right flow of work, the right capacity in which areas to ensure employees are safe, and the insight you can gain from our software will help with that, with the planning.  

Q: What’s next for ProGlove?

A: We believe we’ve achieved the goal of being the best wearable tech out there and we’ll continue to refine that and add more to our portfolio. We also want to be the easiest software to integrate with warehouse management systems and business intelligence tools. Plug and play is our mantra: We want to make sure people get the best experience as soon as they unpack the box, put the glove on and turn on the software.

The next evolution of that is the visibility and data analytics around everything that gets scanned. There’s two types of data that gets scanned: One is from the barcode and then an extraordinary amount of metadata around where people are, how the workflow is completed, what’s on the shop floor…So, that’s what next for us—helping our customers understand what’s happening in their environment at the meta level where the micro-efficiencies are and the process gains that will be had in the next decade.

Further Reading