Fit, Happy and Productive: How Wearables Are Radically Transforming the Workplace

Around the world, people use apps like Runtastic, Fitbit and Strava to keep track of their fitness -- even at the office -- measure their progress toward goals and show off on social media. We all know about that last one, right? Similar apps are also conquering the office, radically transforming the way we work.

According to market intelligence firm Tractica, more than 75 million wearable devices will be deployed in enterprise and industrial environments between 2014 and 2020, good for a market share of about $6 billion, up 3,000 percent from today.

Companies who already use enterprise wearables demonstrate that they can boost workers’ safety, productivity, collaboration and creativity. The possibilities are staggering, as these pioneers are already proving. Here’s how wearables will change the workplace.

Related: Wearable Technology: A Powerful HR Tool

They will increase collaboration.

Tokyo-based engineering and electronics company Hitachi decided to use a proprietary wearable in order to better measure and manage employee interaction. Hitachi developed the Hitachi Business Microscope, a card-shaped device that employees wear on a lanyard around their neck. The device contains a microphone, an accelerometer, infrared sensors and other data-collection devices. It tracks where workers are, who they talk to, how far away they stand from the colleagues they’re talking to, how often they make hand gestures, how frequently they nod and how the energy level in their voice changes.

With this feedback, workers can see how their communication habits and energy levels change depending on whom they’re meeting and where the interaction takes place. An LCD screen shows real-time stats for personal feedback and benchmarking, and suggests strategies for improving collaboration.

This technology has the potential to kill long meetings and boring presentations. In meetings where everybody wears badges, it becomes clear right away when speakers are annoying other participants. When they learn they are boring everyone senseless, they can stop talking, to save everyone’s precious time and sanity. Although, this kind of use might just have the opposite effect and create more tensions than collaborations.

They will make us happier.

Hitachi also developed a wearable sensor to measure employee happiness. It records when an employee is sitting, standing, typing or walking around. According to Hitachi, there is a link between a person’s physical movements and their sense of happiness.

All these data allows Hitachi to calculate the happiness of the workforce. The idea is to help employers find ways to increase the happiness of their employees to help boost productivity.

They will make us more fit.

BP employees in the U.S. can sign up for a free Fitbit activity tracker. They are challenged by their employer to take one million steps each year,. Employees receive extra bonus points for every 1,000 steps on top of that. Fit employees are not only more productive, but as more and more companies all over the world have started to realize, they also afford BP to cut down on its health costs. In return, the employees using Fitbit to monitor their daily activities can enroll in more advantageous health insurance programs.

Related: From Sleeping Aids to Vagina Trackers, 5 Tech Wearables That Aren't Just for Hipsters

They will keep us safer.

Truck drivers at Rio Tinto's coalmines in Hunter Valley, Australia wear the so-called "Smart Cap," that prevents them from falling asleep behind the wheel. The Smart Cap looks just like a regular baseball cap, but it holds sensors across the wearer’s forehead to monitor signs of fatigue and assess their level of alertness. When the driver seems to be approaching a microsleep, the cap sends an early warning. The driver knows he should pull over to the side of the road, to take a power nap or switch to another task. Last year, the Smart Cap had more than one million hours of use.

They will make us more productive.

Supermarket chain Tesco was one of the earliest adopters of wearable technology.  At a distribution center in Ireland, Tesco workers move among 87 aisles of three-storey shelving racks. Many wear armbands that track the goods they’re gathering, freeing up time they would otherwise spend marking clipboards.

A band also allots tasks to the wearer, forecasts his completion time, and quantifies his precise movements among the facility’s loading bays. Amazon and other big ecommerce players also use similar technology to speed up activities in its distribution centers.

They will make us more profitable.

It doesn’t come as a big surprise that some casinos in Las Vegas have found a way to use wearable technology to boost their profit. They provide their employees with smart watches, a fashion accessory that allows them to discretely access data in real time.

When a high roller approaches a table, the floor manager alerts the staff members with an invisible buzz on their smart watch. The staff member immediately receives personal details about the high roller, allowing them to greet the person by name. The VIP will feel honored and will be more likely to spend more money on the table.

Related: The Future of Wearables Depends on an Entirely New Business Model

They will just make stuff easier.

The Epicenter co-working space deserves a special mention. Some of the tenants had a tiny chip, the size of a grain of rice, implanted in their hand. Kind of radical, but hey, technically it’s still wearable technology.

The chip has several functions. It opens the office doors at morning, it gives access to the printer or the photocopier, and it even keeps track of your personal expenses when you wish to order a sandwich for lunch. In the future, it might also get you on the metro or hook you up with a fresh pint in the pub right around the corner.

Losing your keys, forgetting your badge at home or running out of change will never be inconvenient again.