Wearables in the Workplace: Good or Bad Idea?

by Nancy Owen, PHR

wearables blog3There has been much conversation around workplace wearables. Yes, I am referring to electronic devices that are worn on a person such as smart watches, headbands, health monitors, glasses and even jewelry.

It is estimated that 72.1 million devices are being worn each day. Many of those devices are being worn in the workplace. Are you prepared for this in your organization?

Like any technology, wearable technology can reach further and can provide enhanced communications, memory, sensing and recognition. A wearable watch for instance can filter your calls and provide a reference. Your fitness tracker will monitor your health. Smart clothing can measure exactly what muscles are being used, how hard they are working and in what sequence they are worked. Smart jewelry can allow you to take a call without the use of your hands.wearables blog4

So how does this benefit an organization? Here are just a few examples of how businesses can use wearables to improve efficiency and quality of work:

  • High tech organizations are advertising the use of these cool gadgets to attract and hire the new millennial workforce, who we know insist that this cutting edge technology be present in their workplace.
  • Many organizations are in favor of and even supplying wristband monitors, such as Fitbit™, to their employees, ultimately allowing for a healthier workforce and reduced healthcare costs to the employer.
  • Remote field workers are using smart glasses to take pictures and even record videos which is increasing productivity and solving many of their challenges much faster.
  • Repair workers can use smart glasses in very remote locations. Being hands free allows them greater mobility in tight spaces.
  • Workers that need the use of both hands are using smart glasses so they can view instructions or get assistance from supervisors as they conduct high-risk tasks.
  • Doctors and surgeons can wear smart glasses for real-time consulting when they need a second opinion.
  • Managers can use smart glasses to video record and review employee performance. They can evaluate an assembly line worker’s process and coach and mentor their employees from the information gathered.

As you can see, there are advantages depending on the business. On the flip side, the disadvantages and concerns are all about espionage — the covert and sometimes illegal practice of investigating competitors to gain a business advantage.

Wearables blog1Wearables can help corporate spies gather trade secrets, proprietary rights for formulas, business plans for new products, plans to improve processes or other confidential information.

Many companies today are concerned about employees wearing smart watches, glasses and other types of wearable technology in situations where private conversations and meeting notes can be captured. These devises can be small enough to be easily concealed and go undetected. Even employees who have the best intentions can be targets for hackers.

This technology also presents a risk if employees plug their wearable devices into company systems, possibly allowing viruses or malware into the company’s system. In addition, confidential company information or property could be downloaded onto the device exposing the company to the risk of information breaches. This could include customer or vendor information, social security numbers, addresses or credit card numbers.

These wearable devices also may contain legally-protected personal information, such as details about an employee’s health. Unauthorized access of an employee’s personal data, even if it is unintentional, poses another risk of privacy violations.

As the wearable technology market grows, your business needs to consider writing a policy towearables blog address how the devices will or will not be allowed in the business. Before developing your policy, be sure to evaluate the conditions and get a good understanding of how these devices could affect your workplace. Establish the best means to communicate the policy such as adding it to your employee handbook, posting it on the company intranet, sending it as a memo to all employees, introducing it at an all-hands meeting, and/or posting it on a Company bulletin board. All employees, including managers, need to be trained and updated on the policy.

Although employers currently have a great deal of freedom when monitoring employee communications, the law in this field is rapidly evolving and limitations could apply. Be sure you are familiar with all applicable federal, state and local laws prior to implementing any policy.

If you have questions about creating a policy for your organization, or any other HR concern, send us an email at HRhelpline@eastcoastrm.com.

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