Just a few years ago, management had to cope with workers using their mobile devices during work hours. Now they have a new dilemma to struggle with: Workers wearing their access devices to work.
A wearable device includes such things as watches, headgear, belts, glasses and even clothing that doubles as web-access devices. The market for these items is exploding, with more than $70 billion expected to be spent on wearables by 2024.
The presence of wearable devices in the workplace is expected to surge this year, when the new Apple Watch is expected to debut. It won’t be long before wearables in the workplace become as common as smart phones, tablets and other access devices, especially at companies that pride themselves on their innovation and at being at the cutting edge of new technologies.
For some companies, wearable devices will be a net plus because they can improve management’s ability to measure productivity and workflow. Data can be collected from these devices in order to reach a new level of employee insight.
But for other companies, wearables will be a distraction, the same way non-wearable access devices have been in recent years. Then there is the risk of security breaches and privacy issues. New procedures will have to be developed to regulate the use of wearables and unclear policies will need to be overhauled.
Wearables and Big Data
Companies that embrace wearable devices as a net positive can utilize these devices to gather huge amounts of data. Managers can learn a lot about their workers’ daily routines and they can use this data for predictive analytics and improvements to work flow.
Even many of the employees wearing these devices on their wrists, heads or around their wastes often view wearable devices as a new opportunity. One recent study found that 77% of respondents believe that one of the biggest benefits of wearables is that they allow employees to work more efficiently and productively. And another 46% said they want their companies to invest in wearable technologies for their workforce.
So what are the potential upsides of wearable devices in the workplace? Information can be gathered to improve productivity, increase employee engagement and even reduce the number of personal days and sick days workers take. This data can then be used to largely disrupt existing rewards and benefits schemes.
Not only can wearables allow people to work hands-free and participate in meetings while on the go, but they also can add real value for companies by providing real-time insights and information.
For example, managers can look at how employees spend their time throughout the day, measuring how long they spend on each particular task. This can provide a clear picture of where their time is spent so that inefficiencies can be quickly identified and corrected. Information collected from wearables can have a profound effect on a company’s return on investment and can illustrate new ways to improve employee engagement based on each person’s individual habits and preferences.
Wearable devices can even provide real-time insights and analytics related to the on-boarding process so that companies can easily assist workers to better integrate into the organization with training and orientation materials pre-loaded into a wearable device. This can help start the employer/employee relationship off on the right foot and go a long way toward improving retention, especially at a time when many big tech companies are struggling to attract and retain top talent.
Then there is the health data these devices can provide. Wearables can include apps that measure activity levels, such as Samsung Gear and Fitbit, which allows companies to monitor employee’s personal habits and health data like never before.
Many companies now use such programs as online health assessments and subsidized health club memberships as a way to encourage weight loss and health management in order to reduce medical insurance costs. Wearables can allow this to be taken even further, such as tracking workers’ posture while sitting at their desks or rewarding employees for taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Wearable devices can remind workers to choose more healthy food choices and offer incentives for choosing to skip junk food.
BYOD Big Brother
Whenever new technology begins to appear in the workplace, they are always accompanied by security and privacy concerns. Wearables are going to be no exception. According to the same survey reference earlier, 82% of respondents said they were worried that wearables would be an invasion of their privacy, while 86% said they feared the devices would make them more vulnerable to data security breaches. Smartphones or tablets that are lost can easily have their information wiped away, but what about wearables?
And then there are worries about hackers. Wearable can record very personal and sensitive information, much of which could be easily targeted by unauthorized outsiders. An employee’s wearable device could be susceptible to hacking whenever it’s connected to an unsecured WiFi network outside of the office or if the worker uses poor online security practices. Sensitive business information can easily end up in the wrong hands.
As an increasing number of workers begin bringing their own wearable devices to the office, maintaining security can become a challenge due to the many potential threats.
While the challenges involved with introducing new technologies into the workplace will be great, wearables will inevitably play an increasingly significant role in day-to-day company operations. By using modern, innovative and engaging technologies to improve the employee’s experience, companies have a huge opportunity to increase productivity and efficiency. Yet before companies embrace wearables whole heartedly, they should implement new security and privacy guidelines that address how this technology can and should be used.
A Glimpse of the Future
Wearables are going to provide a clearer picture of how workers actually spend their time by providing real-time data on both an employee’s actions and their health. When used properly –and when the best practices are employed to maintain security and privacy – wearables can make the entire office work better, engage more effectively, and be more productive and efficient on the job.