First it was desktop computers, then laptops, then smartphones and now, wearable tech is the new thing revolutionizing everything from our fitness to our workplaces. Whether it’s a smartwatch, a pair of Google glasses or actual clothing that can connect to the internet, the question is how we can best use it to help us.
As with everything new, part of the struggle is always adapting it to ourselves – many people love phones with touchscreens, others hate them. Your company may get along great with wearable tech while others find it a distracting nuisance; it can depend on the industry as much as how technologically minded the employees are. Don’t assume your younger-skewing workforce is automatically going to be great at adapting to new tech; they might be good at finding the nearest available wifi hotspot and surf Facebook like a pro, but they actually aren’t so great when it comes to using it productively.
There are several ways, companies can benefit from wearable tech:
It Can Help Boost Productivity
There are at least three ways wearable tech can help with productivity; one is beneficial to the employer but involves a level of employee scrutiny that they (and you, and definitely George Orwell) may not be comfortable with, another is beneficial to the employees, and another would help by putting an end to illness-related absences.
- Monitoring exactly what employees are doing. No more "the boss is out for lunch, it’s safe to have a quick look at Facebook", wearable tech could give employers the ability to know exactly what they’ve done, how much they’ve moved, and even see what they’ve seen. Of course, bosses might have better things to do with their time, but it would be a much more effective way of knowing what they’re up to when the time comes to decide who to get rid of. As you may know if you’ve ever had someone looking over your shoulder, knowing you’re being watched automatically makes you work harder; imagine what would happen if the surveillance was constant - or at least potentially constant.
- Employees with wearable tech can access information faster and get on with their work without wasting time looking for things. Nurses could more easily see medical records without having to break eye contact, leading to better nurse-patient communication, technicians would be able to use both hands instead of holding a tablet, and those in the emergency services could save valuable time by letting the tech do the work that distracts them from saving lives. Even surgeons could get assistance when things go wrong.
- One of the best known types of wearable tech at the moment is the Fitbit and other devices that monitor our health and our sleep in order to help us avoid bad habits and laziness. If companies were to encourage the use of this tech in their employees, they would find themselves with healthier employees who work better and wouldn’t need to take time off for health reasons. It could even be done in the form of rewards for hitting a certain number of steps or other targets.
It Can Help With Safety
Assembly lines are the area best known for having been handed over to the machines; factories no longer need as many people doing jobs that are dangerous or boring. However, humans haven’t been eliminated entirely, and sometimes those humans get hurt by the machines. Assembly workers equipped with wearable tech could immediately contact their remote superior to disable a rogue machine, or in a less urgent situation they could get assistance on how to get it under control or turn it off. Additionally, workers in a warehouse injured by a forklift or something falling, wouldn’t be stuck unable to reach a phone, they would simply use their smartwatch or Google glass.
Factory workers may even benefit from the Chairless Chair, one day. An invention of the Swiss startup Noone, this is an exoskeleton that workers attach to their waist and legs and, without restricting normal movement, becomes a "chair" at the push of a button. This could help with health related issues of too much standing in awkward positions and solve the problem that has been created by factories who want to optimize working space by taking away any room for real chairs.
Wearable tech could even help firefighters with their dangerous job, and use it as a technological assessment of their environment. They would no longer have to spend more time than necessary inside a burning building, by using their wearable tech as a map to know exactly where they need to go to help any victims.
It Can Help With Training
There’s no avoiding the fact that training is necessary, however, wearable tech could mean less theory and more learning by doing, whether it’s by virtual reality or simply by starting the job and using tech when there’s a problem.
Imagine the scenario: a plumber let loose on their first day of work, out on their own when, for whatever reason, they come across something they don’t know how to fix. Wearable tech would mean they could easily get a hold of a supervisor who could see what’s happening via video feed and help without the plumber having to tell the client they’re stuck and without the client having to wait for someone else to come. In the corporate world, employees would need fewer days dedicated to learning a new product or system as they could easily consult a manual once they’ve been taught the basics.
If you’ve ever contacted a company’s customer services, you’ll have heard the message "this call is being recorded for training purposes": wearable tech could mean it would no longer just be calls that are being recorded, and could mean a whole different future for the services industry.
Where There’s a Benefit, There’s Always a Downside
Even putting aside issues of distraction, employee paranoia from the constant supervision, there are several other potential issues with wearable tech:
- If wearable tech becomes the new normal, where should it come from?
Either it will come from employers, in the same way any office worker expects a computer and chair - and will potentially mean a change in salaries to accommodate the cost - or, employees will be expected to provide them themselves. If it’s left to the employees, we could someday start seeing job advertisements that say "please do not apply if you don’t own X", and that would be the new barrier for jobseekers to deal with.
- The role and requirements of IT departments will change drastically
They’ll start to long for the days when it was as simple as looking brilliant by simply turning it off and back on again; if wearable tech becomes commonplace, and especially if employees have to provide it, they will need to know how to work with every device presented to them and how to ensure the company network stays secure. When the time comes to upgrade the system, they will have to contend with incompatibility issues and employees who don’t want to give up their personal devices.
- More privacy issues
Many companies have things they want kept confidential for one reason or another, whether it’s to protect information from being leaked to competitors or to stop disgruntled employees from getting their revenge when unfairly dismissed. If all employees start having wearable tech, employers might never be able to know if a confidential meeting is being recorded or even transmitted, and it would be easier than ever for one accidental slip of the finger to send the wrong information to the wrong person because a new trainee isn’t used to a piece of equipment.
On the customer side, they might feel that their privacy is being invaded even more than it already is today. You’ve probably experienced looking up something on a shopping website and then getting ads related to it that, feel like you’re being stalked? Imagine that, but in the real world, when a store’s wearable tech communicates with your wearable tech to inform you of an interesting sale because you happen to have walked past it.
- The workforce
Once upon a time, it was the desktop computer that was the newfangled device that older workers didn’t want to learn how to use. While they might now be used to computers, that doesn’t mean the same issues wouldn’t come up all over again when they’re expected to actually wear tech and use it more often during their work day. "Back in my day we had to actually think!”, they’ll say.
These have been just a few of the ways that wearable tech can benefit companies. What do you think: is it going to revolutionize the workplace in the same way computers once did, or will it be even more problematic and actually end up fizzling out when it starts causing real problems? Is it just the natural next step in a world that has become dependent on technology?
Have you introduced wearable tech into your company, or are you considering it? What kind of tech do you think is best for the business world? Let us know in the comments section below.