The modern workplace is constantly changing, and one of the biggest catalysts for the future will be wearable technology. People already wear activity trackers like the Fitbit and Runtastic on a daily basis, but a growing number of companies are turning to wearable technology to change how their employees work. Wearables include everything from wristband activity trackers to smartglasses, smartwatches, and, in a growing number of cases, small devices implanted in the skin. In total, wearable devices are expected to grow to a $6 billion industry by 2020, up more than 3,000 percent from where it is today—that’s an estimated 75 million wearable devices in the workplace by 2020. Wearables have a lot of potential to change nearly everything about the workplace, including bringing the following benefits:
Improvements to Safety and Security
One of the best markets for wearable technology is for employees who typically use their hands frequently and need access to information. In many cases, these are also the employees who are working more dangerous or labor-intensive positions, and wearables can increase their overall safety.
At Rio Tinto’s coal mines in Australia, truck drivers wear Smart Caps, which look just like regular baseball caps but actually monitor the drivers for signs of fatigue with the overall goal of preventing drivers from falling asleep behind the wheel. Drivers are alerted when their fatigue levels are getting dangerous, which then encourages them to pull over to rest. A seemingly simple technology has the power to save lives and products.
Some construction companies are starting to use industrial smartglasses to easily and automatically take video of the process. The footage can be reviewed by a manager to catch issues in the early stages and guide the wearer from a distance. In theory, a single manager could be simultaneously checking the feeds of multiple employees, therefore creating a safer environment and finished product than could be made without the glasses.
Other companies use wearable technology as security; instead of requiring drivers to park their vehicles to key into a new building, wearable technology can send a signal that lets the security system know the employee is cleared to enter the area. This not only saves time from pausing work to unlock a door, but it is also much more secure than traditional key card systems where the cards can be lost or misplaced.
At its core, wearable technology serves to make us more productive and to make life easier. A recent study by Rackspace found that employees using wearable devices were 8.5% more productive than their counterparts. In factories around the world, forklift drivers and pickers use armbands to track the products they are moving, which can save valuable time that is traditionally used tracking things on a clipboard and writing it down. Pickers in the Amazon warehouse use GPS technology on their wrists to alert them to the most efficient route to take to get an item off the shelves and ready for shipment. It may only save a few minutes a day, but that time quickly adds up across an organization.
In an office setting, wearable technology can be used to streamline information and replace traditional desktop computers, which can be distracting and slow. Even saving employees a few minutes over the course of the week can lead to hugely profitable gains for a company.
Modern workplaces use a variety of devices and programs for employee collaboration, especially as telecommuting and global outsourcing increase, spreading employees across the globe. Wearable technology helps on-the-go employees stay connected nearly all the time. In Tokyo, engineering company Hitachi uses its internally developed Hitachi Business Microscope to track employees. The card-shaped device is worn on a lanyard and uses a variety of sensors to track where employees are, who they talk to, how often they gesture, how their vocal energy changes, and much more. Employees and managers can track real-time progress with the goal of creating optimal collaboration and workplace efficiency. After all, if energy levels are falling during long presentations or certain times of the day, managers can shake things up and work towards a more collaborative office.
Boosting Health and Happiness
Wearable technology can easily measure physical movements, but now some organizations are tracking those movements to link to employee happiness. According to Hitachi, someone with a greater sense of happiness moves around more often and differently than someone who isn’t as happy, and happier people are more productive at work. Hitachi provides employees with wearable sensors to track when they are sitting, standing, or walking around. Unproductive or unhappy employees can then see their results and make changes in their movement to increase their mood and morale.
Another tenant of many modern offices are incentives such as wellness programs, for which wearable technology can be incredibly useful. Fitness and health programs not only increase morale, but studies have shown that fit and active employees are more productive and save the company large amounts of money because of their lower healthcare and insurance costs. At BP, for example, employees can get a free Fitbit activity tracker with the challenge to take one million steps over the course of the year. Employees even receive a bonus for every extra 1,000 steps they take, a perk that wouldn’t be possible without wearable technology.
Although there are myriad benefits to wearable technology in the workplace, it isn’t immune to problems. As technology grows at such a rapid rate, there are bound to be issues, especially surrounding privacy and information security. However, as companies work to iron out the issues, many of these problems will surely be mitigated.
A not-so-distant future may find employees wearing all sorts of devices to track their progress and movements—we soon might not be using traditional technology at all.
Does your organization use wearable technology? Should it?