How to enhance human–robot interaction in warehouses

May 15, 2023

Warehouse automation is on the rise around the world. How can operators and industrial robots work together to increase productivity? New findings from the Technical University of Munich and the University of Cologne in Germany reveal research-backed mechanisms to improve collaboration between warehouse workers and their robotized teammates.

Managers can create more engaging human–machine interactions by setting goals and incentives

As logistics facilities become more automated, the number of robots working alongside staff is growing. “Hybrid settings are needed in many cases, as neither unaided workers nor full automation is as effective as combined work,” says Professor Alexander Hübner, lead author of the study New teammates in the warehouse: Human interactions with automated and robotized systems.

According to Hübner, Professor of Business Administration at the Technical University of Munich, managers must prepare themselves and their teams for further human֪–robot interaction: “It’s imperative to understand and account for workers’ human factors in operational activities to establish efficient automated and robotized warehouse systems.”

4 research-backed tips for improving collaboration between workers and robots

The researchers analyzed human–machine interactions in warehouses through a behavioral lens. The goal was to understand how operators’ actions can improve hybrid work performance.

The findings show that to improve decision-making and collaboration in robotized facilities, managers need to consider the following 4 research-backed tips:

1. Forming effective human–machine warehouse teams

Sharing the same space with robotized systems triggers different human behaviors and group dynamics. To make automation successful, managers need to pay attention to how robots are perceived and introduced in the facility.

The findings reveal that trust and technological acceptance are critical success factors when managing effective human–machine teams. “Several practitioners have reported that a lack of trust hampers hybrid warehouse performance. For companies to ensure effective human–machine teams, it’s crucial to establish mechanisms that strengthen cooperation and collaboration between operators and robotized systems,” says Hübner.

2. Hiring and training the right employees for proper human–machine interaction

Collaborating with robots requires specific professional competencies. Aspects such as personality traits, preferences, and skills vary among employees and thus play a crucial role in managing efficient warehouse setups. “Recognizing an individual’s skill set is critical to understanding which worker to deploy for which task, as individual human performance varies even in standardized activities,” says Hübner.

Trust and technological acceptance are critical for managing human–machine teams

For instance, working with robotized systems may require skills such as programming capabilities, trouble-shooting skills to resolve workstation blockages, and personal competencies such as an eagerness to adapt to adjusted tasks. Companies need to hire, train, and employ the right workers based on the operational task at hand to ensure productive collaboration. The researchers argue that “given high fluctuation rates in general, and large temporary labor needs during peak demand periods, it is crucial to learn how to attract and retain labor for human–machine interactions.”

3. Assigning tasks and developing operating policies for humans and machines

Interacting with robots involves task interdependence, making human and machine performance dependent on reciprocal actions. Logistics managers need to find the optimal balance when assigning tasks to operators and robotized systems. “Addressing how to effectively leverage the strengths of humans and machines, how to distribute the workload within human–robot teams, and how to design the workflow becomes indispensable,” write the researchers.

When working in hybrid environments, operators tend to compare themselves with machines and have preferences concerning specific tasks, processes, and settings. To reach optimal human–robot collaboration, managers need to establish mechanisms that ensure feedback, transparency, and autonomy — three aspects that, according to the experts, can boost worker motivation and satisfaction and thus increase performance.

4. Designing engaging and direct human–machine interactions

With increasing automation, managers need to design engaging interactions to make the warehouse an attractive workplace for employees.

Mental and physical workloads must be distributed properly to ensure operators and machines are assigned the best tasks. For example, a high physical workload and a low mental workload may reduce efficiency and quality. So, finding the right balance between robots and workers’ tasks is crucial to improving work engagement.

Besides a balanced distribution of tasks, managers can also create more engaging human–machine interactions by setting goals and incentives. This approach can help operators be more engaged in the workplace and perform better.

Successful human–robot collaboration

According to the researchers, these four tips for improving human-machine interaction can help warehouse systems providers and engineers design better solutions and assist logistics managers with better decision-making.

“We demonstrate that interactions with robotic systems are prevalent, showing the enhanced relevance of autonomy in intralogistics, also given their flexibility and scalability,” conclude the authors.



Lorson, Fabian, Andreas Fügener, and Alexander Hübner. 2023. New Team Mates in the Warehouse: Human Interactions with Automated and Robotized Systems, IISE Transactions, June, 1–18.

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