Wearable devices are something of a darling in the mobile industry today, especially with recent smartwatch launches and new platforms for developing applications. Such devices could be, first and foremost, an additional screen for your smartphone. However, beyond telling time, giving notifications and running apps, the big potential in wearables is in the APIs -- particularly the data you can collect from the sensors embedded in the device. For instance, there’s motion data, location-tracking, and even the possibility of using smartwatches for mobile, contactless payments.
Wearables in the workplace.
Now that smart wearables are invading the workplace, they are expected to become increasingly common and eventually ubiquitous.
British grocery chain Tesco is using armbands that automatically track the goods that workers are transporting along close to 90 aisles of shelves. These armbands make it unnecessary for the workers to mark clipboards. The devices also give their managers an estimated completion time, and could check the correct order fulfillment, among other information. Sensors that monitor fatigue also help backhoe operators avoid accidents. Many companies are tapping into wearables to help make their wellness programs a success.
Moreover, there are sensors that make way for more efficient knowledge work. These sensors analyze motion and time that are involved in completing a task, then give the operator or user more information, as needed. For instance, Boeing has been using gear that gives instructions to wire assembly personnel without them needing to look at the manuals.
Then there are those devices that help you know when you are most productive. For example, there is now an EEG headband that helps you understand your cognitive patterns, thereby giving you insights on when you are at your most creative or productive.
Wearables and efficiency in the workplace.
It would seem obvious that employing these wearables has made work a little bit easier and employees more productive. But is it quantifiable? According to a study by Rackspace, The Human Cloud at Work, employees wearing wearables at work became 8.5 percent more productive and 3.5 percent more satisfied with their jobs.
There really is no question that wearables have their place at the office or the factory floor. It goes beyond the classic time-motion studies in which you measure efficiency according to the standard time worked and how the employee labored. Now you are working with data that has previously not been as easy or feasible to gather.
Of course, not all of your employees would want to wear a fitness band or smartwatch. Even so, commercially-available smart devices might not give you the data you want or need. This may throw a snag into your initiatives. For example, if you are trying to negotiate for a lower health care insurance premium, and you only have data for a small percentage of your employees, your insurance provider might not give in and go for it. However, if you have data for a good majority of your employees and it shows that they lead a healthy lifestyle, then it could be easier for you.
Embedded sensors can track the same data and give you the same information that you can get from a smart wearable device. And you can integrate it with ordinary articles of clothing or accessories. For example, LifeBeam produces a safety helmet for biking, caps and visors that have embedded sensors for tracking vital statistics. The same technology actually resides within the Samsung Simband, the Korean company’s much talked-about health-tracker. Embedded sensors enable real-time and accurate tracking of heart rate, calories and steps. According to LifeBeam CEO Omri Yoffe, this provides "the ability to collect, integrate, display and communicate accurate biometrics in real-time."
Therefore, embedded sensors can empower companies in collecting data pertinent to health and productivity. These can be integrated in either discrete devices like watches, or embedded in company uniforms and even the company ID badges. It gives employers and employees an option in contributing to the enterprise’s data pool, without being too intrusive. You do not have to wait for your employees to buy a Fitbit or a Nike Fuelband, for instance, in order to better track motion. Sensors can be a game-changer in improving productivity.
It is reasonable to expect that there will be objections, and the most common reason for that would be privacy. Employees simply will not be comfortable with the idea that management is watching their every move and, yes, even their every breath.
So it is important to communicate to your employees what types of information will be gathered and how these will be used. A third party provider could help in easing privacy fears. Users might find it preferable to access their data privately, while management can only see aggregated data, not individual information.
Wearables are not just a passing fad, nor a trend that will plateau and go away. According to research firm Canalys, 8 million "smart" tracking wristbands shipped in 2014, and this is expected to grow to 23 million this year and 45 million by 2017. ABI Research estimates that at least 3 million activity-tracking devices will be integrated into employee wellness schemes by 2018.
Given that 35 percent of organizations in the US consider wellness programs as a "very effective strategy for controlling costs," it would not be that farfetched to expect that fitness trackers, smartwatches and embedded sensors could be more mainstream in the enterprise in the years to come. Wearables will graduate from being a geeky toy for the early adopters to something that any regular consumer would want. The same goes for sensors that can be embedded not only on devices like watches, but also on other common objects as well. Enterprises would want to join in, if only to ensure better productivity and satisfaction among employees.