The market research firm eMarketer estimates that approximately 40 million Americans over the age of 18 used wearable devices in 2015. This represents a remarkable increase of more than 57 percent compared to 2014. By 2018, some 81 million adults will likely use wearable technologies.
Wearable devices are just one aspect of the Internet of Things (IoT)—the vast, ever-growing network of devices, systems, machines, and even living things that are linked through the Internet. While the IoT includes wearable fitness trackers that automatically store and transmit health data, it also comprises home automation systems, automobiles outfitted with tire-pressure sensors, and even individuals with implanted cardiac monitors. If an item uses sensors to transfer data across a network without human intervention, it’s likely a part of the Internet of Things.
By 2020, the IoT will encompass an estimated 50 billion connected “things,” and more than 80 percent of these will be mobile devices. As the rise of Big Data offers businesses unprecedented insight into their customers and operations, the IoT presents similar benefits in the realm of workforce management. The growing connectivity of everything from employees’ wearable devices to workplace equipment poses several implications for human resource professionals, thereby creating exciting new opportunities to enhance communications, employee engagement, and the overall workplace experience.
Encouraging Employee Wellness
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is integral to the wellbeing of not only the individual employee, but also of the organization as a whole. While employees who are emotionally and physically healthy contribute to a positive working environment, they can also save companies valuable resources in areas such as healthcare costs and missed work days.
Wearable technologies are an innovative and increasingly common way for HR leaders to encourage healthy living. Nearly half of all employees already wear fitness trackers to work, and according to ABI Research, companies will integrate an additional 13 million wearable devices into their employee wellness initiatives over the next five years.
Wearable fitness trackers can add a new level of accuracy and personalization to existing corporate health programs. Moreover, they offer a way to promote a healthy lifestyle without requiring participation in health-focused activities or programs, thus placing fitness in the hands of the individual. In some cases, human resources departments may be able to leverage employee fitness data to negotiate more attractive insurance packages—a boon for individuals and organizations alike.
The Internet of Things creates numerous opportunities to improve workplace efficiency, particularly in manufacturing or retail settings. For example, at a distribution center owned by UK supermarket chain Tesco, employees wear armbands that allow them to track product locations throughout nearly 10 miles of warehouse shelves. At the same time, Amazon warehouse employees position themselves within the IoT to enhance their productivity. As they traverse the vast distribution centers to retrieve products for delivery, these “pickers” use wearable GPS tags and handheld scanners to generate the optimal route to each item.
From a more general standpoint, human resources professionals and managers alike can use wearable devices to gain insight into employee locations and activities, thereby making it possible to assign tasks based on proximity. HR managers should take care to position such initiatives with the goal of optimization rather than oversight, because employees may feel oppressed by a sudden increase in monitoring. Still, the usefulness of the IoT and wearable technologies in managing large operations—especially across multiple worksites—is undeniable.
The Internet of Things can also enhance operational efficiency through improved time management. HR leaders can use connected devices to optimize scheduling based on customer flow, or to more accurately track overtime hours. The IoT and wearable devices create new possibilities for personal time management as well, and companies can also use them to encourage productivity in non-customer-facing environments.
Of course, the heightened connectivity offered by the IoT can also streamline communications between individuals and departments within your organization. For example, a particular business division might input its hiring needs directly into an interconnected recruiting system, thus creating the potential to identify, contact, and hire new talent via a mobile device.
Wearable technologies and the IoT can add an additional layer of safety to potentially hazardous work environments. For example, the Smart Cap helps other heavy vehicle operators avoid accidents by monitoring their alertness, using sensors to detect signs of fatigue. At the same time, products such as XOEye’s industrial smartglasses can transmit HD video from a construction sites or factory floor, for instance, thereby allowing workers to receive remote guidance from their managers as needed.
Enhancing Learning Opportunities
As evidenced by IoT tools like smartglasses, wearable devices can place on-the-job training more firmly in the hands of employees. By leveraging emerging technologies, human resources professionals can empower employees to track their own performance and access learning materials as necessary. IoT-enabled systems have the potential to track employee performance in real time and recommend improvements accordingly, adding new levels of transparency and personalization to professional development.
An Increased Focus on Privacy and Security
As HR leaders explore the various ways of integrating their operations with the Internet of Things, it is important that they prioritize employee privacy and security. While collecting more detailed, personal data from employees can enhance business operations, it can also pose new security concerns on both an individual and an organizational level.
In many cases, wearable consumer devices do not offer the robust security features associated with corporate computer systems, such as advanced data encryption. Before implementing a new technology, HR teams should ensure that their planned data collection does not go against the device maker’s terms of service. They should also assess their planned initiatives for compliance with local privacy laws.
Human resources professionals must ensure that their use of technology does not appear overwhelming or overbearing, especially in the case of health or performance-monitoring devices. In this regard, many industry experts advise companies to simply avoid being “creepy.” This might mean foregoing initiatives that require employees to check their own health metrics too frequently or report potentially personal information, such as perceived stress levels. HR teams should ensure that their firms’ data collection is closely tied to measurable workplace improvements and should clearly communicate the purpose and scope of all employee-involved IoT initiatives.