The Invasion Of Wearables In The Workforce

Editor’s note: Chris Bruce is the managing director of Thomsons Online Benefits.

Wearables have hit the market like a hailstorm. 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.

With the pending debut of the Apple Watch, predicted to come to market in early 2015, wearables in the workplace are about to become ubiquitous, particularly at large tech companies that are known for innovation and change.

For some, wearables will up the ante significantly in a company’s ability to measure workflow and productivity, and with data collected from these devices, a new level of employee insight will be reached. For others, the inevitable invasion of wearables means that we will be forced to relieve the BYOD nightmares of security risks, unclear policies and new procedures.

Wearables Redefine Big Data in the Workforce

Wearables present the opportunity to gather tremendous amounts of information surrounding an employee’s daily routine, making its benefits for today’s workforce largely centered on data and predictive analytics.

Even employees see wearables as a real opportunity. According to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) on 1,000 U.S. adults, 77 percent of respondents think that one of the most important benefits of wearable technology is its potential to make employees more efficient and more productive at work. Forty-six percent said they think companies should invest in wearable technology for their employees.

The information organizations will be able to gather with wearables can improve productivity, increase employee engagement and even potentially lower the number of sick days employees take. The use of this data presents the opportunity to largely disrupt existing benefits and rewards schemes. While wearables allow employees to go hands-free and participate in meetings while on the go, the real value for organizations will be real-time insights and the information these devices can collect.

For instance, wearables can allow employers to easily track an employee’s time throughout the day and gain a clear picture on where time is being spent, and quickly identify inefficiencies. This information can have an enormous 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 even trickle down to the on-boarding process, allowing organizations to easily help employees better integrate into the company with orientation and training manuals preloaded onto a wearable device. Given the competition 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.

A more common theme with wearables is the greater emphasis placed on new health programs using these technologies. Health functionalities of wearable devices, from the Fitbit to the Samsung Gear, will allow employers to tap into an employee’s personal habits like never before.

We’ve already witnessed the emergence of health initiatives that place an increased focus on metrics like weight loss and management, and some can even go as far as tracking an employee’s posture while sitting at his or her desk. Imagine having a wearable piece of technology that suggests an employee take the stairs instead of the elevator or eat a healthy meal instead of junk food, and then gets rewarded based on the choices they have made.

A Recurring BYOD Nightmare?

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

Wearables 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 Wi-Fi network outside of work or simply utilizing 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.

With more and more employees using their own personal wearable devices at work, keeping information secure can become a daunting task with many potential threats.

Despite the headaches surrounding the introduction of new technologies, wearables inevitably will play an increasingly important role in daily 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. 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.

The Brave New World

Wearables will give us a more accurate glimpse into the workforce by offering new data on an employee’s workday and his or her overall well-being. When used correctly – and with the appropriate security measures taken – wearables can empower the entire workforce, improve engagement and make employees more efficient and productive at work.