The market for wearables is still nascent, as the technology faces a few key challenges such as speed and battery life. But Gartner estimates that by 2020 wearables will exceed 500 million shipments, and “over 35% of the population in mature markets will own at least one wearable electronic device.” There are already a number of applications for this burgeoning technology in the workplace, with more to come.
Healthy, Happy, and Active
The most immediately obvious applications for the wearable technology are in healthcare. Monitoring the performance of our bodies as a system, closely and continually, provides interesting and useful personal data analytics.
A large amount of data gathered by measuring the physical lifestyles of employees has so far been best used to leverage better collective insurance premiums. Wearables also encourage employees to better their health, by giving them a more consistent and closer overview of their daily physical activity. Healthy employees are happy employees, and happy employees are productive employees.
Wearables Will Refine the Minutiae of our Workday
When it comes to productivity, micro-interactions are the primary differentiator for wearables. The technology will focus on providing efficiencies by helping us master the small and subtle events that impact our concentration.
For example you are working on a spreadsheet when you receive a phone call, your smart glasses take note of exactly what you were doing before the phone interrupts your process, and they bring you back to the exact position you left off once the phone call is over.
A simple version of this concept has already been put into practice with the SmartCap, a baseball hat that measures brainwaves to monitor fatigue, which is being used to aid miners and truckers stay awake, alert, and safe.
The way that we schedule our activities will change dramatically. When wearables can recognize your current task and organize it in a backend with a larger to-do list, scheduling will be more fine-tuned – down to the minute instead of the half-hour. The cumulative time-savings from process efficiencies for the individual will be considerable, and for the organization monumental.
Regulating Your Emotions
Wearables in their current and basic iteration can already measure our heart rate, and with that can fairly accurately measure emotion and stress. Future iterations will be able to do a much better job, something that can and will be used to execute precision marketing campaigns (e.g. you only see an ad when you are happy).
More importantly, smart watches will be able to send notifications when they sense your pulse has reached a threshold. So, instead of flipping out at your coworker, you will get a gentle reminder right at the point where you need to take a walk and grab a glass of water, before talking it over with your composure intact.
Emotional intelligence is so important for success in the workplace that there is a nearly unlimited application for this feature alone. By giving us a quantitative analysis of our emotions from a physical standpoint, we will be able to control more adequately how we feel while working, thus improving our sense of motivation, belonging, and productivity.
Does More Control Mean More Stress?
As with the introduction of the smartphone into everyday business, wearables promise to make the individual employee more available beyond normal working hours, on a very personal level. This could mean greater stress and even less privacy for individual contributors and managers alike. Something like the thought of higher-ups being able to monitor your heart rate at any given moment is scary, but also, a generally unwarranted concern given the organization has ethical IT practices in place.
Sorting out the careful balance of streamlined productivity and increased availability is both a challenge and an opportunity, and it’s definitely a part of our future in the workforce.