The Employee POV on Wearables in the Workplace

Written BY

Emily Friedman

May 18, 2015

Workplace loyalties are fragile in America today, with just 22% of adults reporting that they feel loyal to their company, and only 28% agreeing that their company culture is caring & understanding (PwC). Could wearable technology increase office morale? Yes, it could; but it could also pose a major threat to morale in the workplace in cases where employers fail to mollify their employees’ concerns.

Technology that enables workers to do their jobs better – by making it easier to perform tasks, to produce efficiently, and to provide better service – not only makes for stronger employees overall but generally makes for a more satisfied workforce, or so one would imagine. In addition, the integration of wearables into corporate or employer-sponsored health & wellness programs can lead to a healthier, more productive, and even happier workforce. But in order for wearable technology to have a positive impact in the enterprise, employers must consider those who will actually use the devices, those who will wear the smartglasses and sport the smartwatches over the course of the workday.

Let’s say you’re an executive or manager responsible for bringing new technology into your business, and you decide to adopt wearable tech; a key first step in change management is to consider the employee POV. For wearable devices to succeed in the workplace, you will have to get your employees on board, and so you will have to imagine how wearables will fit into the actions your employees are already doing; how the devices will make those actions easier, faster, more effective, and/or safer; and what it will be like for employees to both wear and use the new technology.

I’ve now read a number of sources that attempt to give advice to enterprises seeking to equip their employees with wearable displays. Many begin by urging companies to look for appropriate use cases within their businesses or areas within current business processes that could benefit from a particular wearable form factor. This necessarily involves rethinking employee workflows, for it is the employees, once again, who will have to use the new technology. Beyond just donning the wearable devices, workers will have to learn how to use the devices (by training) and how to manage them (charging & maintenance). A good starting point is to identify tasks that consistently require deskless or lone workers to use their hands while referring to various data sources such as a manual or tablet. Weaving wearables into the daily lives of these employees will definitely alter current workflows, so pondering those workflows – considering what systems of information the workers will need to access where & when in order to perform their jobs and how wearable tech can help, along with such issues as user experience (comfort, glanceability, intelligibility of the data, etc.) and whether wearables can be made a part of the uniform – such areas of inquiry will certainly go a long way towards facilitating adoption amongst the workforce.

Say, as the executive mentioned above, you have chosen a wearable device that you believe will not only make your employees’ jobs easier but will also be simple to operate. Now, you must promote feedback & instill trust to ensure employee engagement & the success of the new technology. Whether your workers are seeking guidance from wearable tech in completing day-to-day tasks, ease of access to information, or something more like performance coaching via devices that measure & evaluate progress towards stated behavior goals; it is important to ask frontline employees how they are liking & evaluating the new technology, and to address any concerns they may have about using wearables, especially privacy concerns. The helpfulness of the technology (demonstrating its benefits) alone will not assuage these concerns, of course, but employee education & transparency can instill trust.

With this new wave of mobile technology comes an increased level of monitoring, with which not all are comfortable. Enterprises will need to be transparent as far as what they intend to do with the data collected by wearable devices – which will amount to loads of information about individuals’ habits & daily activities – as well as how they intend to protect that (potentially sensitive) data. While some do not view the increased monitoring as much of an ethical concern, reasoning that employees are used to being monitored to some degree and that they will be less resistant to technology that delivers the right information as it is needed to help them perform better; others argue that strict guidelines need to be put in place to prevent employers from using wearable technology to the detriment of their employees (for ex. using the collected data as grounds for firing a worker, or opening up workers to privacy risks).

The privacy & security of employees’ personal information can be addressed, of course, by IT security specialists & other experts, as well as by certain cautionary measures such as providing that employers see only anonymous data, that participation in corporate trials of wearable tech is optional, and that there are no punitive implications for either opting in or out. In addition, education might assuage workforce concerns: it’s important for workers to perceive the new technology as a tool to help them perform more effectively on the job; additionally, if employees understand how information is collected by wearable devices, where it is stored, who can view it, and how the information will be used by the company, then they may be far more tolerant, even welcoming, of wearables in the workplace.

I’ll leave you with a comparison from Paul Roehrig, global managing director at Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work (source: TechRepublic). Roehrig advises that employers be very clear with their employees as to what kinds of data they are collecting and how that collected data will ultimately benefit the employees. He talks about the “give-to-get ratio:” for example, if someone listens to Pandora Radio, the fact that he likes a particular artist more than another is probably of no interest to anybody. If that information gets out somehow, it does the listener no personal harm but enables him to hear more satisfying content when using the app or service. This amounts to a “low give” and a “medium get” for the listener, according to Roehrig. In the enterprise, the give-to-get ratio has to offer the giver – i.e. the employee – extraordinary value or else it is not worth it to “give up his data.”

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