As the workplace evolves, so does the ability to provide motivation to the employee and tracking for the employer. Wearable Technology has many potential applications from encouraging employees to improve their fitness to monitoring their work habits. What are some of the pros and cons of this new trend for small businesses as related to security, productivity, worker satisfaction and data gathering?
Protection of personal data and the devices themselves are at the forefront of security concerns related to wearable tech. Not only can the devices themselves be easily compromised if misplaced but also the data itself could be subject to hackers and potential misuse. Ensuring protection of employee data legally and technologically is an important consideration for human resource and C-level managers.
The biggest objections employees have are related to their privacy.
Of course, one of the primary drivers for use of wearable tech in the workplace is to track and improve productivity. The possibilities are far-reaching; here are three key benefits:
Monitoring fatigue and preventing accidents – Fujitsu has created products in a category called “Ubiquitous Wear” that measure temperature, heartrate and movement. Using wristbands and badges, data is analyzed and can be used to detect falls, sleepiness or heat stress. Soon a product will be available that measures posture and breathing—an activity tracker for sitting that will help employees to be more productive by reducing stress.
Monitoring motion and time – A 2014 study by Rackspace showed that wearable technology could increase productivity by 8.5%. It also noted that wearers experienced a 3.5% increase in satisfaction. Some employees feel that the data increases their work-life balance by reminding them to stop and take a breath or go for a walk. They have cited satisfaction that comes from self-monitoring and have changed their behaviors based on feedback. If employers tie the information to financial incentives such as lowered insurance premiums or discounted gym memberships, they can further enhance employee satisfaction even including some healthy competition among employees.
Location tracking – Most workers would prefer that the boss not know where they are all the time. But in certain industries like construction and mining, trackers can prevent injury and save lives. A tracker that warns miners not to enter a dangerous area or a panic button to call a supervisor to the exact location of an accident are devices designed to save lives rather than monitor an employee’s every move.
And why should wearable tech stop with humans? Vermont farmers can relate to a recent article in Modern Farmer Magazine about livestock monitors that send information to the Cloud. They include an ear clip that measures changes in temperature; a pill that stays in the stomach and transmits data about basic health; a leg band that opens and closes gates and a cowbell alternative with a GPS sensor.
While data gathering has many benefits it does not come without negative implications. The biggest objections employees have are related to their privacy. Employers are advised to get employee consent before implementation and be fully transparent on how the data will be used. A third-party vendor can help keep identification of individual employees private when warranted. Employers must remain cognizant of the implications of this type of data gathering as it relates to laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
Wearable tech will become a larger part of the workplace in the coming years with an expected 45 million of the devices to be sold in 2017 and over 3 million to be included as part of employee wellness by 2018. Employers will see many benefits with this revolution but should thoroughly research all the options before committing the workforce to embrace this kind of change. Working closely with HR to create a message around the value to each worker is important and, if there are not enough benefits to justify the disruption, the time may not be right for your company to implement these devices.