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Stefan Spendrup: The role of wearables in the future workplace

Written by Stefan Spendrup, Vice President of Sales Northern and Western Europe at SOTI

With the world having to adapt fast to social distancing, the avoidance of touching surfaces where viruses can be transmitted, and the increased monitoring of healthcare, it’s no wonder that the wearable tech market, which offers solutions to all these dilemmas, is set to grow 137% by 2024.[1]

While the places that we work in have already been disrupted with perspex screens, one-way systems, hand sanitising stations and ‘bubbles’, the next big disruption in the workplace is going to be wearable devices. Statistics show that by connecting workers to one another and to resources, 50% of companies expect to see a boost in productivity.[2] Where will this boost come from? Here are some of the key areas that wearable devices are impacting in the future workplace and the challenges that need to be overcome.

COVID-19 prevention

With many medium to large workplaces playing host to hundreds, if not thousands of people, it is an impossible task to keep all touchpoints on doors and barriers clean. At the same time, access must be controlled for safety and security. While electronic passes have existed for a long time, using wearables to grant access can help keep people moving, eradicating the need to touch surfaces and reducing the spread of viruses.

More advanced possibilities include ordering a lift in advance from a smartphone to help ensure a flow of traffic in busy high-rise buildings, booking meeting rooms to aid with test and trace records, and replacing lunch queues with bookable slots.

One of the key indicators of COVID-19, and in fact many transmittable diseases, is a rise in body temperature. Wearables in the workplace can keep track of any changes in people’s vital signs to help identify and isolate members of staff that are unwell, preventing the entire workforce from becoming ill.

Safety and situational awareness

By gaining insights into their business operations in real-time, wearables also allow employers to make smarter decisions and take a more proactive approach to ensure the safety of their employees. Wearable devices can be personalised and configured to a worker’s exact needs and specifications. They can also be equipped with haptic response capabilities that employers can use to inform workers if they are operating in an unsafe manner. After all, one bad twist or bend could result in a workplace injury and take that person out of action.

The data capture capabilities of wearable technology can help determine which tasks workers are performing incorrectly, and which may be contributing to inefficiency or poor performance. Organisations can also produce daily, weekly, monthly and yearly reports/scorecards to track performance and identify trends. This can help in targeting risks and mitigating those risks to decrease the potential for injuries and other safety incidents. This can also help identify high-risk employees and situations so employers can intervene accordingly with additional training or tools, helping to combat injuries, fatigue and lost productivity.

Streamlined processes and increased productivity

Wearable technology will also help organisations increase their efficiency and productivity in several ways.[3] There is a larger demand for products to be made faster and cheaper across industries. Consumers are looking for the easiest and quickest ways to buy products and services. Wearables can help speed up production costs, cut down on operational expenses and alleviate unnecessary strain on workers.

These devices can help automate previously manual processes, help to develop a more hands-free environment, and collect and share data on a local network. For example, leveraging wearable technology to design and test new products in simulated environments can increase design accuracy and enable organisations to identify and rectify any issues before products are released. This also removes the need for physical design prototypes, cutting down on development time and production costs.

Personalised and effective training

Organisations can leverage wearable technology to streamline their training and make it more efficient and tailored to the specific employee receiving the training. Wearable technology also boosts performance, improves employee satisfaction and increases knowledge retention amongst employees. Wearables allow organisations to create immersive task simulations for training purposes. Wearables will take scenario training to an entirely new level by placing employees in simulated situations that closely mimic what a day on the job will truly look like. Instead of watching actors deal with fake situations on a television screen, employees will have the opportunity to work through the scenarios themselves, venture down their decision-making paths and chart their own courses of action. The days of one-dimensional presentations are over as we usher in a new era of interactive training.

Wearables also allow for a more in-depth product knowledge training experience. Rather than asking employees to read various sales sheets, product sheets or corporate brochures, wearables can give employees three-dimensional training on how various products work. They can test out products in real-life scenarios without ever leaving the building. This type of immersive training will ensure employees know everything (specs, benefits, etc.) there is to know about a product and its use cases, helping them sell, advise or troubleshoot products more effectively.

Challenges and concerns related to wearable technology

When implementing wearable technology into an organisation, it is also introducing a new level of data collection and, as a result, a new area of security concern. It becomes increasingly important to protect the device and the data housed within the device from unwanted access, the same way a company would protect employee information, financial records, etc. And security is not the only concern related to new IoT devices. Organisations will need to worry about compliance, management, updates and more.

Having one central platform can help breakdown organisational silos to eliminate downtime, build applications faster, and manage all mobile and IoT devices in one place, including wearable technology. Wearables are already revolutionising the way workers do their jobs, from law enforcement officers using body cams to gather evidence or record their interactions with the public, to hospital workers using wireless pendants to streamline communication and improve the patient experience. COVID-19 is only accelerating this push towards this integration. It is exciting when we look at the potential and possibilities for wearables in the workplace, but organisations that take the time and care to ensure their devices are properly managed, will reap the most benefits.