Wired up at work – will wearable tech work at work?

Let’s face it. As an HR Director you’re going to have a number of different things that might be keeping you awake at night. But have you considered, that as people pre-order their Apple watch today, the fast-moving world of wearable technology may be just the ticket to help make things easier for you – although, as with anything new, there are always a few concerns along the way. 

Wearable technology has been giving marketing directors a deep insight into consumers of their products and services for a little while now. It’s helped to establish the behaviour patterns of the buyers - their habits, where they go to shop and what else they’re looking at. It taps into the deep-seated interests of their market. And a lot of what’s been used in the marketing arena translates beautifully into the workplace.

Picture this. You ask your employees to wear some form of unobtrusive technology – a smartwatch or small badge perhaps. That little device might track their location, movements, heart rate, stress levels or, in the case of Google Glass for example, their actual performance on the job. As an employer, the data that you’ll receive can be invaluable – and we’re already seeing it being used by businesses, for example:

  • Location tracking is being used in some warehouses or large retailers to help managers give floor staff location-specific tasks, helping to raise productivity.
  • It’s been used to assess behaviour and response patterns during training exercises to help make sure employees are doing the job that fits their personality.
  • In some cases, Google Glass is allowing bosses to monitor how their staff are performing on the job by watching recordings of them carrying out tasks.
  •  Perhaps the most common use of wearable tech so far though is to monitor employees health – ‘fit tech’ is included as part of company well-being programmes and can be linked to health insurance policies and to help caring employers gain a better understanding of the work/life balance.

As with any new technology, there are real concerns from people about the ‘big brother’ nature of this. We recently ran a survey with over 2,000 working UK adults to find out what people really felt about sharing their data and information with their boss. And despite having data privacy concerns, four in ten people would use happily use a smartwatch given to them by their employer. People are more likely (56%) to use it if they know the information will be used by their employers to improve things such as working hours, stress levels and where they can work from. Not surprisingly, the millennial generation is happier using this technology than their older colleagues.

Big up the benefits

So if you’re looking to implement some form of wearable technology in your company, it’s worth communicating the benefits to the employees. Our survey told us that flexible working hours, free health screening and fitness incentives are the benefits people are most willing to share their personal data for. People are also more open to the idea if the data is anonymised and shared at an aggregate level, rather than being personalised.

Tackle the trust gap

It’s also incredibly important to build and maintain a strong level of trust with your employees about what you’re likely to do with the data you gather. Our report showed a lack of trust as being the main barrier to people being willing to share their personal data with their employer – around 40% feared it being used against them and the same number weren’t sure the data would be used for their benefit. So the way that you communicate with your staff about your plans for the data and the benefits they can offer will be a good starting point in helping fill the trust gap. At the same time, you need to make sure that you’re keeping that data secure and managing it responsibly.

Giving employees wearable devices could be a novel and powerful way for organisations to understand their workforce and tailor working patterns, benefits and office life to their individual needs; ultimately leading to more engaged and happy employees. The tools that are now available to help gather and analyse data offer employers a genuine opportunity to help manage and motivate their people.

Would you consider using wearable technology to the benefit of your workforce? Please do get in touch and share your thoughts.


Anthony Bruce | Partner
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