Industry view: Taking a byte out of workplace wearable tech

Published: 17 Apr 2015

By Erika Campbell, human resource services director, PwC in Aberdeen

Help may be at hand for employers who want to offer flexibility on when employees work or their benefits and, at the same time, exceed business objectives.

Last weekend, as early adopters surged to pre-order their Apple watch, it got me thinking: could the fast-moving world of wearable technology help businesses improve on areas such as working hours and stress levels – and in turn improve staff morale and loyalty?

By creating the right culture and embracing more innovative and collaborative employee models, firms can not only attract, but retain and enhance the productivity of their workforce. It’s certainly a key challenge facing industries such as healthcare, oil and gas, utilities and manufacturing.

Erika Campbell

After all, wearable technology has been giving marketing directors a deep insight into consumers of their products and services for a little while now – from buying patterns to where they shop.
Our latest research has shown there is an appetite to embrace wearable tech. Almost 50% of Scottish workers would be happy to wear a smart watch if they knew the information would be used to improve their wellbeing at work.

So picture this. Employees are asked to wear some form of unobtrusive technology – perhaps a smartwatch or similar technology – which tracks their location, movements, heart rate, stress levels or, in the case of Google Glass your actual performance on the job.

For employees, this ‘fit tech’ aspect could be included as part of your company’s well-being programme and linked to health insurance policies. It could even help create a better work/life balance among the workforce.

And as an employer, the data that you’ll receive can be invaluable. Indeed, some businesses are already tapping into this. Location tracking is being used in some warehouses or large retailers to help managers give floor staff location-specific tasks, helping to raise productivity, while some firms are using it to assess behaviour and response patterns during training exercises to help make sure employees are doing the job that fits their personality.

Big brother or big benefit?
Not surprisingly, we found that the millennial generation is happier using this technology than their older colleagues. Nevertheless, most Scots workers seem happy to consider sharing agreed information with their boss as long as they can see clear personal or workplace benefits, with flexible working hours, free health screening and fitness incentives among the most popular.

If you’re looking to implement some form of wearable technology in your company, it’s worth communicating the benefits to the employees. It’s also worth bearing in mind that employees are also more open to the idea if the data is anonymised and shared at an aggregate level, rather than being personalised.

It’s a question of trust
It’s incredibly important to build and maintain a strong level of trust with your employees around how you’ll use the data you gather. We found trust to be a key obstacle, with one-in-three Scottish workers concerned that data may be used against them or that it won’t really be used for their benefit.

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. Similarly, reassuring people that you can keep the data secure and manage it responsibly will also be vital in bridging the trust gap.

As our digital world continues to expand, embracing wearable devices could be a really novel and powerful way to both motivate and better understand a workforce and tailor working patterns, benefits and office life to their individual needs. It might also be a strong recruitment tool when vying for talent with competitor firms.

For those firms who do this well, the outcome could be more engaged, happier and higher performing employees. And who wouldn’t want a byte of that.

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