Wearable Technology in the Workplace
More people are carrying various electronic devices on them at all times. Some of these are already in the workplace such as cell phones, MP3 players, and tablets. However, as technology evolves, a leading-edge trend is for wearable technology. As with all technology, it will take some time for this to become accepted as mainstream and commonplace at work. For human resources, this presents new challenges.
An article in Human Resource Executive Online sheds some light on the issues that all HR professionals will need to face in the not-to-distant future -- unless they're with a tech-driven company in which they're probably facing this issue now. Early adopters of this technology embrace it because if they're wearing it, then it's something they don't have to keep track of.
If you're unfamiliar with what "wearable technology" is, then think about the common wristwatch. It serves the function of telling time (and in many cases it can do much more), it's convenient, it's fashionable, and it can also serve as a status symbol. Today's emerging technology takes the watch to the next level. If a watch can only tell time, the date, and has a stopwatch function, then it's considered old. So-called "smart watches" can now link to a cell phone, perform tasks such as smart phone and tablet apps, and link to a health device to monitor heart rate, distance walked, and many other functions.
An even further leap in wearable technology involves eyeglasses. The leader in this technology is Google with their product Google Glass. While it looks like an ordinary pair of eyeglasses, it can do almost anything a smart phone can do, but in the blink of an eye. The wearer benefits from improved mobility, connectivity to cell towers and the Internet, the ability to run applications, and the heightened engagement with immediate surroundings.
Finally, there are RFID (radio frequency identification) chips that provide GPS location tracking data. This technology can be used to eliminate the need for time cards and the recording of mileage. It can also be used for security to monitor if an employee is somewhere he/she shouldn't be.
Let's first look at the benefits of wearable technology to the workplace. Improving productivity and safety are two initial benefits that come to mind, but the possibilities are truly endless. For example, someone wearing smart eyeglasses can interact with the device via speech and eye movement while keeping both hands free to perform a complex task or use gloves that would prevent the use of a keyboard or tablet device. Video recordings can also easily be made to determine whether an employee is performing a task quickly and correctly. Smart watches can be wirelessly linked to biometric or other health monitors so that employees who work with hazardous chemicals, or who undergo severe physical strain, can be alerted to when they need to take breaks, be aware of potential chemical exposure, or prevent a driver from falling asleep behind the wheel. All this can further help reduce claims for worker's compensation due to injuries or health-related causes.
As with anything that provides a benefit, there is a consequence. For wearable technology, that comes with concerns over employee privacy. Anytime an employer collects data/information about an employee, it needs to be careful about what it collects, how that data is used, and whether the information is secure.
Another situation in which privacy issues can arise is when the employee uses that device for personal reasons. For example, the wearer may record private conversations in violation of company policy and/or federal and state wiretapping laws.
How will the employer address the privacy issues that will arise when the employee takes the wearable device into the restroom, changing room, or other private area? Of equal concern is what to do about inadvertent disclosures such as an unflattering conversation about a supervisor, or even the company -- especially if the employer then terminates that employee.
If you think that smart eyeglasses are the only risk to business, then think again. Biometric scanners, while beneficial, can also inadvertently reveal a physical disability, illness, and even if an employee is pregnant.
Companies that use wearable technology will need to tailor this equipment specifically for the chosen application. In addition, they would need to formulate policies for strict limitations on when, where, and how the device may be used including possible automatic controls to turn it off or render it unusable. The bottom line is that the quicker both the employer and employee acclimate to wearable technology, the more likely they are to use it correctly, responsibly, and to its full potential.