How wearable technologies are redefining the future of work

Thomas Dorynek ,   Manager People Advisory Services @EY

Thomas Dorynek, Manager People Advisory Services @EY


Today wearable technology is largely adopted by everyone; the initial fears and doubts have been overcome. When walking around the wearable section of a tech store, you realise that this market is now very well structured and has positioned itself across all segments, with dedicated products ranging from the occasional sportsman to the marathon-runner. This expansion is significant and the wearable technology market will continue to grow in the upcoming years. Looking forward, wearables in the workplace are becoming increasingly important. A study by the highly-reputable tech firm Gartner estimates that by 2018, 2 million employees will actually be required to wear health and fitness trackers as an employment condition. Glancing further ahead to 2020, research firm Tractica brings together some additional insight - by 2020, more than 75 million wearables will have spread across the workplace.  

But should companies leverage wearable technology? And how?

The answer to the first question is yes, wearable tech can have a real impact on an organisation's business in many ways. 

The first one is employee wellbeing. According to a recent study from intelligence health firm Springbuck, 35% of employers use wearable devices in their wellness programmes. Wellness has been one of the major trends in the HR world in recent years. Many programs are being implemented under the umbrella of wellbeing, such as sports initiatives, mindfulness, stress management, etc. Next up in this trend, many companies are providing tailored wellness services to organisations. In Belgium, for instance, Energy lab has implemented many wellbeing programmes including the use of wearable technologies for companies like ING and Deloitte. These campaigns have been very successful and have been largely adopted by employees. 

Another impact is employee engagement, which is closely linked to wellbeing. We know that “happy” employees are likely to be more engaged, and therefore more productive. Technology combined with Digital HR initiatives are a huge enabler for employee engagement.

An added benefit of happy and more engaged employees is the reduction of regular work absences among the workforce.

The second question is how can enterprises leverage wearable technologies?

As mentioned earlier, wellness programs are the best fit to integrate wearable devices. Fitness trackers for example can be deployed alongside a broader sports campaign and allow employees to track their daily achievements. 

Other companies have taken a more aggressive approach, allowing employees to receive additional bonuses if their recorded fitness tracker activities are considered as “healthy”. For example, Aetna, an American insurer, has launched an incentive where employees could receive an additional bonus if they prove to have a certain amount of hours of sleep per night over a certain period. However, these kind of practices are definitely in the grey zone in terms of usage of private data, and broadly speaking, they are not likely to be implemented successfully in most companies.


Nonetheless, the potential of wearable tech is certainly not limited to the above-mentioned areas. Take the augmented worker, which is another dimension altogether. Here we will see wearable tech playing a game-changing role in increasing employees' working abilities. 

Indeed, wearable tech has the power to significantly improve mere human capabilities. Think of smart glasses. These can allow workers to undertake more meaningful and effective trainings using immersive experiences. Many surveys/studies are already confirming that augmented reality can substantially improve employee productivity. At General Electric, tests have demonstrated that smart glasses improve worker’s performances by 34% on first use. Next to virtual reality, many technologies can support workers in better understanding themselves and accompany them to improve on a constant basis. Sociometric badges are an example. Companies like Humanize can provide a wide range of people analytics via the use of these kinds of wearable technology.

A next wave of technological development will follow. This next wave of transformative technologies, the so-called “transtech”, could deeply impact the application of wearables in organisations. 

Transformative technologies are an emerging collection of scientific, research-based technologies, designed with the purpose to make mental and emotional well-being more scalable, accessible, and affordable.

Bottom line: Today we are just at an early stage for the use of wearables. Despite some privacy and legal concerns, companies need to prepare to embrace wearable tech as these are redefining the future of work.

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