Can wearables be used to improve workplace productivity?

Recruitment Strategies
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Wearables can transform the workplace. Not only by making employees healthier, but also by making their jobs easier


Wearable technologies have been found to boost productivity by 8.5 per cent. That’s according to a study conducted by experts from Goldsmiths, University of London, and technology company Rackspace. It’s an exciting finding with the ability to change the workplace for the better and create a more efficient workforce.

This potential productivity boost is driving the fast-growing area of wearable technology as an addition to the workplace. These smart electronic devices can be worn on the body, usually as an accessory, or even as an implant. Of course, all the big tech players wanted to stake their claim on the wearable market. You may have seen smart glasses in the form of Google Glass, or smartwatches from several high-profile technology brands such as Samsung and Apple.

Through wearable devices, we can control and monitor our entire lives. And considering we spend much of our lives at work, it’s natural for employers to look at whether wearables can make an impact on the workplace, make us more productive and increase employee engagement.

A healthy employee is a more productive employee

Failing to take time out for exercise and relaxation makes employees more likely to be absent from work due to sickness. About 137m working days were lost from illness and injury in 2016  – equivalent to 4.3 days per worker – if unchecked, this will negatively affect business performance and productivity.

Many employers look to wellbeing programs to minimise workplace issues such as stress, depression or anxiety, and this is where wearables are making a positive impact. A lot of companies already supply workers with fitness trackers such as Fitbit or Jawbone to measure health. Fitbit has already offered its internet-connected wristbands for a few years – by 2015, it had more than 1,000 customers, including 70 of the Fortune 500.

Employers can access real-time data on a corporate dashboard to get visibility into the health of their employees. Apple has made moves into this area, and the analyst Gartner forecast that by 2018, around two million people will be required by employers to wear fitness trackers.

Other uses of wearables

Successful use of wearables in the workplace depends on the applications that developers create for them. A smartwatch without apps is like a smartphone without apps – not very useful. But with an active development community creating useful software, a smartwatch can be helpful in the workplace. There are uses in all kinds of area; real-time health tracking, task management, note taking and dictation, as well as travel – having a boarding pass on your watch could be very convenient if your job involves a lot of travel.

Wearables have endless potential that varies by what kind of industry your staff work in – for example, if you’re in engineering, wearing a pair of smart glasses could allow you to share what you see remotely, meaning an off-site expert could observe and give advice on the best way to tackle a problem. In shift-based work, sensors in a wearable device could measure levels of fatigue in your employees. A headband could measure cognitive patterns – giving you an insight to when your staff are most creative and productive in the day.

Wearable technology has its place in all working environments, because it can pick up data around productivity that we simply could not have measured before. In the future, we may see sensors embedded into clothing or ID badges, which means we won’t even need to be carrying a device.

What are the risks and pitfalls of wearables?

The main issue with wearable technology in the workplace is around worker data. In the consumer world, people actively choose to share with companies to use apps, but there is more reluctance in the corporate world for people to share their data with employers. In research from PwC, 38% of people didn’t trust their employer to use the data they collect to benefit the employee.

If employers do decide to collect data, they should develop codes of conduct about how they collect, store and use data about workers. If they hand out devices, then they need formal guidelines governing their use, following regulations and communicating clearer to workers what the in information they track is going to be used for.

The future of wearables

With the advent of virtual and augmented reality, you can see a future where employers use this technology to allow employees to collaborate through a headset, just like they might do today with video conferencing.

We could even go further. The PwC research showed that one in four people would have a chip implanted to help them manage their lives – for example, using it like a passport, money transactions and as a health tracker. People in London were most receptive – 40% said they would have a chip fitted inside their body.

For employers, success with wearable technology will depend on creating value for the proposition that delivers real benefits, as well as overcoming any skepticism from employees about how their data will be used. In some industries, the wearable revolution is already well under way, meaning the time to get on board is now.

 

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