Few changes have had as big an impact on the workplace as the mobile revolution. The next chapter of that revolution? Wearable technologies. They may still be something of a novelty, but these technologies will undoubtedly redefine the future of work, from how employees do their jobs to their relationships with managers and colleagues.
Wearable technologies — everything from smartwatches to gloves like the ones Fujitsu unveiled at Mobile World Congress — might at first seem better suited to a sci-fi movie than the workplace, but that’s changing quickly. Google Glass, Fitbit and other wearables get a lot of buzz in the consumer world, but their business applications are arguably more exciting. In fact, the workplace could be the ultimate catalyst for solving what these technologies mean for human interaction at work and at play.
Big Business Implications
Bill Briggs, chief technology officer at Deloitte Consulting, makes a case for wearables at work. “For businesses, the potential of wearables is tremendous, and the challenges are surmountable…Wearables let us introduce technology to previously prohibitive scenarios where safety or logistics can limit the use of laptops, smartphones, or tablets,” Briggs writes in Wired.
There’s no denying the impact that wearable technologies could have for mobile workers, such as service technicians. Gartner predicts that so-called smartglasses like Google Glass could save the field service industry $1 billion per year by 2017. These devices have the potential to take the collaboration benefits of smartphones and tablets to a new level, expediting training and improving communications in the field.
Benefits Beyond the Field
The potential extends beyond the service industry, too. Police officers, insurance agents and doctors are assessing wearable tech’s potential in their working lives. “For the healthcare industry, wearable devices are facilitating telemedicine and expert consultations,” according to the Industrial Internet. “A big number of surgeons are experimenting with smart glasses for expert consultations or training in a remote location.”
And the list continues. Companies including Hitachi and Walt Disney Co. are using wearable tech to improve employee collaboration and to track their locations and interactions with customers, writes The Wall Street Journal. It’s not hard to imagine the applications for office-bound workers, either. Consider corporate wellness programs that tap data from wearable devices like Fitbit or smart socks, or employee review processes that give employees real-time updates on their performance.
Questions Still Unanswered
The promise and potential is there, but there are plenty of legitimate privacy, security and basic courtesy questions needing to be addressed. The challenges aren’t dissimilar from the adjustments businesses must make to accommodate any new technology in the workplace. Writes Briggs in Wired, “Of course, these new applications don’t come without concerns — although many have easy solutions. … These new devices also need to be secured, managed, and maintained. Another potential roadblock is the concern over privacy.” These are complex concerns that both employees and business owners will need to figure out together.
They may spark debate, but wearables certainly have people’s attention. According to Cornerstone OnDemand’s recent “State of Workplace Productivity” report, 58 percent of employees would use wearable tech if it helped them do their jobs better. And it’s not just Millennials. Fifty-five percent of older generation employees are amenable to wearable devices in the workplace. Don’t discount the powerful human fear of missing out, either. The report found that 67 percent of employees would “feel curious” if a coworker used wearable tech, while 12 percent would feel disadvantaged.
The jury is still out on how people could (or should) use wearables at work — most of these devices aren’t even publicly available yet — but people are interested. As the BYOD trend shows us, people are hungry for new technologies and devices that can help them work better. And if employees think wearable technology offers that promise, they’ll be the best source for businesses to gauge what the future holds.
[Image via Daily Reckoning]