From smart devices like Google Glass to health monitors such as the FitBit, wearable technology is the latest buzzword filling newsfeeds and business boardrooms. According to IDC, wearable shipment volumes will exceed 19 million units in 2014, more than tripling last year’s sales. But as with most new technology, we’re still far from understanding how these connected devices will be used – certainly within today’s business environment. So what will wearable technology mean for the workforce?
Embracing wearables in the workplace
Just like cloud and mobile, wearable technology is poised to change how organisations collect, access and use information. Many experts believe that this technology is ready to take off in the business world. In fact, some even believe that the adoption of wearable technology will spread faster in the workplace than through consumers.
Yet, the concept of wearable technology in the work environment is not exactly new. Employee badges, package-tracking devices, and healthcare tablets are all examples of technology that employees have already embraced as part of their daily work lives. What’s really helped to accelerate the growth of wearable tech is the improvement in connectivity, moving devices from carryable to wearable. According to the "Wearables at Work" global survey commissioned by The Workforce Institute at Kronos, efficiency (41%) and enabling work/life balance (41%) are two of the biggest potential drivers for UK workers when considering the adoption of wearable tech at work.
Why go wearable?
Unlike the consumer world, wearable technology in the enterprise is not about fashion, but function. It’s about extracting information from employees, or devices, with minimal, or ideally, no impact on their working behaviour. Currently most organisations are just starting to learn about wearable technology or to think of it as a workplace tool, but its potential within the organisation is huge.
For organisations including retail, contract services and manufacturing, the misalignment of staffing to business demand or inadequate tracking of time and attendance can have a huge impact on performance and productivity. So, managers need to ensure that the have real-time insight into any problems that may impact productivity levels. This is where wearable tech really comes into play.
Wearable technology provides managers with a clear understanding of what people are doing at any time throughout the day – and that is powerful. Through wearable technology, organisations can gain a clear idea of all those things that are most important to them – employees or equipment – where they are and what they’re doing, with minimal effort. As a result, organisations can benefit from reduced costs, increased efficiencies and a more nimble, productive workforce of employees better able to deliver superior goods and services.
Take manufacturing for example. In this environment, just one employee in the wrong place at the wrong time could stop a manufacturing line from starting, so production managers need to know where employees are at all times. With wearable technology, employees could wear a smart wristband that communicates their location on the floor. This could combine the location-tracking functionality with data associated with traditional manufacturing punches to provide managers with instant information about the employee’s work. For instance, what are they working on? Are there productivity issues? Are they falling behind? Armed with this information, supervisors can react in real-time to potential issues and optimise business outcomes.
Wearable devices could also be beneficial in the healthcare environment, where timing and staff alignment to patients is critical. This could via devices on the staff to monitor location and working patterns, the patient to monitor heart rate and condition or even on the hospital equipment. One of the items lost most often in a hospital is the wheelchairs, so having real time information into where they are at any given time is extremely useful. But is wearable tech all positive?
Addressing privacy concerns
As wearable devices start to enter the workplace, no doubt the issue of privacy will rise to the forefront. Wearable technology could be perceived as an attempt to monitor employees or intrude on their privacy, so it’s important that privacy and security are included as part of the initial discussions around wearable tech. Organisations need to have an honest discussion with employees explaining what the data needs to be used for and ensure barriers are built in to separate work and home lives.
In these discussions it’s vital that organisations explain what the employee gets out of it. Many employees may be more receptive than often assumed. It’s easy to believe that people won’t like it – that such systems act as ‘big brother’. But in reality nothing could be further from the truth. Most workers are comfortable with the notion of being monitored, as long as the reasons for doing so, and the benefits to the business and employees, have been clearly discussed and explained. In fact, our Forgotten Workforce research found that 81% of workers are happy for their organisation to record when they start and finish each shift, a figure which increases to 89%. If employees experience real benefits from using wearable technology on the job – such as recognition from management or improved personal productivity, the chances that they will embrace it.
Looking to the future
For the most part, wearable technology is still in the trial or concept phase. But as connectivity continues to improve, the technology is only going to get better and more prevalent in the months and years ahead. We can already see some very real examples of how this wearable technology could transform the work environment. In order to take full advantage of what this new technology has to offer, companies of all sizes and in all industries should start putting in place plans now, or risk falling behind those organisations that do.