Wearables at Work: Boon or Bane?

Wearables have stirred the consumer imagination and the market like a cyclone. From watches to glasses, headgear to belts, to all assortments of chips and sensors built into clothes and accessories, this market doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. In fact, wearables are estimated to be more than a $70 billion market by 2024, according to IDTechEx and WTVox. Let us see if this new phenomenon is a boon or a bane today.

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With the coming of the Apple Watch, wearables in the workplace are about to become a big fantasy that just became a reality too soon, particularly at large technology firms that are known for innovation and change.

The perception of the majority is that wearables will up the ante significantly in a company’s ability to precisely and very correctly measure workflow and productivity, and with data from these devices, a new level of employee insight and real time productivity data will be reached. Some companies fear that the inevitable addition of wearables in the already complicated pool of devices means that we will be forced to relieve the BYOD nightmares of security risks, unclear policies and new procedures.

Even the workforce sees wearables as a really big opportunity to use technology as an enabler. According to a study by PwC on 1,000 U.S. adults, 77% of respondents think that the most important benefit of wearable technology is its ability to make employees more efficient and productive. 46% said they want their employers to invest in wearable technology for them.

The sheer amount information that organisations will be able to gather with wearables can improve productivity, increase employee engagement and even lower the number of sick days employees take. The use of this data represents the hitherto unimaginable opportunity to largely disrupt and effectively re-model the existing benefits and rewards schemes. Though wearables allow employees to go hands-free and participate in meetings while on the go, the real value proposition for organisations will be real-time insights and the information these devices can collect. The huge amount of data that will give actionable intelligence when coupled with the right analytic tools will be the deal clincher for organizations.

For example, wearables can allow employers to easily track an employee’s time and position in the work cycle throughout the day to gain a clear and very precise picture on where time is being spent and quickly identify inefficiencies or bottlenecks to productivity. This information can have a significant impact on a company’s ROI and show new ways to improve employee engagement based on individuals’ preferences and habits.

Real-time insights and analytics delivered by wearables can impact right down to the on-boarding process, allowing companies to easily help employees better align themselves into the company with orientation and training manuals pre-loaded onto a wearable device. Given the challenges that many tech giants face in attracting and retaining top talent, ensuring that the employer/employee relationship starts off on the right foot can go a long way toward ensuring employee retention and arresting high attrition at workplaces.

A more common avenue of application with wearables is the greater emphasis that can be placed on new health policies and employee insurance programs using these technologies. Health tracking features of wearable devices, from the Fitbit to the Apple Watch, will allow employers to tap into an employee’s personal habits like never before. And this in turn helps craft a more effective health benefits and insurance policy by the employers.

We have already seen the emergence of health initiatives that place an increased focus on metrics like weight loss and management and there are some that can even go as far as tracking an employee’s posture while sitting at his or her desk. Just think about having a wearable piece of technology that suggests an employee take the stairs instead of the lift or eat a healthy meal instead of junk food and then the employees get rewarded based on the choices they have made. Mind boggling, but so very possible and in fact, happening right now! Some people are even calling it out as a potentially possible violation of privacy from the employee angle!

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Like any new technology adopted by our society in general and organizations in perticular, there are always security and privacy concerns that accompany it; wearables make this problem more complex. According to the previously cited PwC survey, 82% of respondents are worried that wearables would invade their privacy while 86% think wearables would make them more vulnerable to security breaches. If you lose your smartphone or tablet, information can be easily wiped. Will wearables offer the same capability? There is also another angle to this.

Wearable devices have access and tap into some of the most personal, sensitive information of an individual, which can also make them an easy and desirable target for hackers. Connecting to an unsecured network outside of work or simply using poor online security practices can leave an employee’s wearable device susceptible. And of course with easy data-sharing capabilities, there is also the chance that sensitive business information can end up in the wrong hands. The implications start at medical info landing in the wrong hands and extend to complete ID theft along with personal biometric data! Very tough to combat once that happens! Everyone’s nightmare! With an increasing number of employees using their own personal wearable devices at work, keeping information secure can become a daunting task with many potential threats.

Despite the considerably complex issues surrounding the introduction of new technologies, wearables definitely will play an increasingly important role in business practices. Implementing innovative, modern and engaging technology to enhance an employee’s experience is too big of an opportunity for tech companies to pass up citing security concerns. But before employers look to incorporate wearables, they need to put in place new privacy and security guidelines addressing how this technology can and will be used.

In conclusion, it is safe to say that wearables bring a totally new angle in the way that enterprises see and understand their workforce. They have the potential to totally change the landscape of employee welfare, appraisal, medical and benefits policies at workplaces. But they come with their unique bouquet of security and privacy concerns.When used correctly with the appropriate security measures, wearables can dramatically improve engagement and make employees more efficient and productive at work. This gives us the wonderful opportunities that spring out of the correct and clear analysis that can be done on the massive amount of data that the wearables pump out! Bring in the IoT angle with wearables and you have the future right in front of you. So, more of a boon and a little bit of a bane if you ask me!

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