The History and Future of Wearable Tech at Work

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If there’s one thing you should know about me is that I love me some tech which is weird considering I was raised by hippie parents in Kansas no less. We had all of 5 television stations with rabbit ear antennas, no microwave or computer until I nearly graduated. We lived in a different time where my pen pal, Marcy sent letters instead of emails and I would dial the operator on my rotary dial phone to prank a real person from our home phone that was on a party line.

Tech just wasn’t part of my growing up which led to my fascination. I wanted to know more which is why my freshman year in college, I signed up for a credit card with Best Buy so I could buy my very own computer. This was 1997.

In the world of tech, I was a bit of a late adopter especially when you consider the rise and reign of Macintosh Apple computers at this time. Sometimes I long for those days of simplicity, but outside of moving into a remote island and living in a yurt, those simpler days are behind us.

In my professional career, I’ve always been a fan of automation and tools that drive productivity. I was an early cell phone user in 1996 and had my first Palm Pilot in 2000. Wearables and tech have been an important part of the workplace but they have been a fixture for longer than you might realize. I was an early user of Google Glass and now have my hands on Snapchat Spectacles. I am truly of the mind we are not far away from wearables becoming common place in the workplace. There is so many reasons to leverage them, however, it’s important for employers to think big but focus on small progress because an investment in wearable tech like this can be costly for you.

One of my favorite industries to watch grow, change and evolve is the wearable industry which is expected to balloon to $34 billion by 2020. Whether or not, you encourage wearables in the workplace, they are there. They are being used to measure, enhance and improve the productivity of your employees. While wearables are more of a consumer product, there continues to be a great deal of growth and interest. Consumer technology is driving the adoption of software and technology at the office in part to your employees expecting the same level of software and hardware they have access to our their personal lives. Wearables are no exception.

Seven New Uses of Wearables at Work

  • Fitness trackers like Shine and Fitbits can help encourage an employee’s healthy living, food and exercise choices reducing the cost of healthcare costs for both employee and employer alike.
  • GPS trackers on employees who are traveling to ensure they are taking the best route for deliveries and maximizing their work and travel times. This could be waste management workers, delivery drivers, ambulance drivers or workers. It’s not just about productive driving but tracking response times.
  • Ensuring that remote or on site workers arrive to locations and client sites clocking them in and out by location.
  • Gesture technology where certain hand signals means different actions and activities. A server could use a hand signal to alert authorities to a robbery, distress or the need for additional drink refills. Entire work meetings and presentations could be managed via gesture. No more fumbling for remotes, clickers or the need to expand or move to different screens.
  • Virtual reality headsets can be used for employee training, simulation and a gives a new and different meaning to the pre-employment assessment and interview. You can test your employees, train and engagement them in a virtual world.
  • Wearables focused on safety like shirts that measure body temperature and alert the wearer if they are dehydrated or a wearable that records employee activity and performance similarly to how professional athletes improve their stance, routine or approach.
  • Gloves used to track movements and productivity for employees working in warehouses or production lines.

While wearables seem like a new phenomenon, they are in fact not new. Wearables have been in existence since the 1970’s with one of my favorite crazes being the watch calculator and then onto another personal favorite which was the obnoxious huge bluetooth headsets. These things scream I’m important, busy and you should leave me alone.


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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

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