​Wearables in the workplace: The tech taking over your office in 2016

The wearables coming to your workplace whether you like it or not
Workplace wearables revealed

Much of the talk about wearables has been with consumers in mind but increasingly, the real potential of connected devices is in the workplace.

As we reported earlier this year, wearables at work can improve the health and wellbeing of the workforce. They can help make employees happier and more productive, reduce the company's costs, make for a more efficient teams and even keep employees safe.

Big test: Best fitness trackers

But, as you'd expect, this kind of new tech, and the huge wealth of data it can yield, also raises a lot of practical and ethical concerns. The key issue, as usual, is privacy. Even the idea incentivising employees can be ethically problematic.

Speaking about the potential of wearable tech in the workplace, Mike Weston, chief executive of Profusion, a data science consultancy, told the Financial Times: "I think there's an inevitability that it will gain ground, and there's a backlash risk that will follow if the data get abused."

Stress saver or stress maker?

He also revealed that some employees find constant tracking "enlightening and useful" whereas others find it "disturbing." He even commented that one colleague actually become "the most stressed he'd ever seen her", just from wearing a fitness tracker.

The debate on wearables in the workplace is one for the Wareable Forum, but in the meantime, we've taken the time to explore which wearables have the power to transform your office.

Microsoft HoloLens

Over the past year we've been tantalised by the potential of virtual and augmented reality and the office hasn't been left behind.

Essential reading: Microsoft HoloLens first look review

One company pioneering the application of augmented reality in commercial environments is Microsoft with HoloLens. Beyond offering office workers a virtual desktop to work from, its ability to project computer-generated objects into the real world has huge potential.

NASA ordered early units to be sent to the ISS (which didn't end well) so astronauts can benefit from Remote Expert Mode – where virtual instructions can be overlaid into the user's view, when fixing systems on board. It's a system that could easily be used by plumbers, electricians or any hands-on employee for on-the-job advice, cutting the need for months of training.

Apple Watch

Many people are given a company phone so it only seems logical that over time these smartphones will be replaced by more practical and efficient kinds of technology.

Read more: Apple Watch review

This feature in the Harvard Business Review explores the potential of replacing the outdated ways we have of checking, working and collaborating with new ones that rely on "microinteractions" instead. These are small movements that are much more intuitive and less distracting.

The Apple Watch, as well as Android Wear and Pebble smartwatches, provide workers with a way to stay connected that's faster and more efficient than checking your phone.

Fitbit Charge HR

One of the most well-publicised applications of wearable technology in the workplace so far has been companies trialling what's been widely referred to as 'corporate wellness'.

Research has shown healthier employees cost firms less in healthcare payments, have less time off sick and are more productive.

Verdict: Fitbit Charge HR review

Fitbit has its own corporate wellness scheme, but over the past year there's been a proliferation in third party companies dedicated to tracking the health of employees.

Jiff is one such company, offering an enterprise health benefits platform that's all about tracking and then incentivising staff. Empowering them to make better choices for their own health - and the wellbeing of the company too, of course. So far the consultancy has partnered with the likes of Activision, Qualcomm and Red Bull to provide support, a central hub for data and gamification features to provide individuals with real-world incentives.

Hitachi stress wearable

Although Jiff uses trackers from Fitbit and Jawbone, more business-led tech companies are staking a claim on the tracking space.

Earlier this year, Wareable reported on Hitachi's new wearable badge-like device built to measure human behaviour and "happiness" levels. It uses a "happiness algorithm" based on how much you sit, stand, nod, type and walk around at work."

Samsung Gear smartwatches

Couriers use handheld devices that get smaller and smaller each time one comes to our door, so it only seems like a natural progression that professions that monitor large amounts of items would go wearable.

Essential reading: Samsung Gear A smartwatch rumours

Last year, Mike McNamara, the chief information officer for Tesco, explained that staff behind-the-scenes at the retail chain are now using Samsung Gear smartwatches to help with stock control. In a Retail Week report he said, "Data in the world of bricks and mortar is our most valuable asset. It used to be property and locations but, in the multichannel age, it's data."

Huge potential

We've just scratched the surface of how wearable tech can be applied in workplace settings. But there's clearly huge potential for companies and third party data providers and analysts to start taking wearable tech more seriously and gradually implementing it into the lives of their employees.

It's not the tech itself that raises issues, but the way it's introduced and what the data it collects will be used to do. Let's hope a third party emerges that isn't dedicated to employee-wide schemes or constant analysis, but to communicating the benefits to people who can't help but feel like Big Brother wants to track their every move.

1 Comment

  • KMAY says:

    Apparently the author forgot to list a single workplace technology product and instead posted a bunch of consumer wearables...

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