Wearable technology like Google Glass is set to impact the workplace in ways we can’t imagine. While many of these changes are positive, there are some potential downsides.
The real game changer is in field service, according to Gartner analyst Angel MacIntyre. If a technician is stuck, for example, he or she can simply “talk with a local person, and if [the company] has this integrated into a pair of smart glasses, you can do it all with one device hands-free…It could potentially save the field service industry alone $1 billion.”
Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services company, uses Glass software from Wearable Intelligence to give field employees access to important data on a hands-free device. “Their hands can be elbow-deep in grease and they can still navigate their checklist, hands-free,” remarks Yan-David Erlich, founder and chief executive of Wearable Intelligence.
How wearable technology will benefit public personnel
The device is also useful in scenarios where quick reactions are important. The New York Police Department is testing Google Glass to see if it cuts down on the time it takes officers to access information on a tablet, smartphone, computer or radio.
Glass could also enable the police to quickly call up suspect information in high-pressure situations. Firefighters have also been tinkering with wearable technology. At present, the Wearable Advanced Sensor Platform can track where a firefighter is and his vitals (like breathing and heart rate) in real time.
Wearable technology is also useful for those of us who have desk jobs. The In Pulse Notification Watch can link to your smartphone via Bluetooth and notify you by vibrating if you get a new email, text, or call.
Location-based uses for wearable tech
The location-based applications of wearable technology can significantly change the way business is done in industries like manufacturing. For instance, if a manager knows where his workers are, he can quickly reassign them in case there is a snag. Employees who get reassigned would not have to punch in again, they can just go to the area where they now need to work and get back to business.
In the healthcare industry, wearable technology can track specialists and then assign them to the nearest, most critical patients.
Similarly, in retail, employees could be sent to areas experiencing a sudden customer rush instead of manning near-empty zones. Google Glass can also enable managers to number crunch the time employees spend searching inventory vis-à-vis the time they spend attending to customers.
Wearable technology also makes use of devices like QR tags. Employees can wear such tags, and customers can scan them to fill out feedback surveys. Again, this will provide valuable insight into employee performance.
How wearable tech will affect work-life balance
With wearable technology, the boundaries between work and personal life will only get more porous. When we are physically wearing a device, it will be much harder to leave it behind.
Wearable technology will become a part of us, in a much more tactile way than the devices that we have been used to. While on one hand flextime will increase, on the other, detaching yourself from work when spending time with family may become more difficult.
How companies should react
Companies will need to hammer out policies that take wearable technology into account, especially as it begins to draw attention from lawmakers.
“People are just starting to understand what they can and can’t do, with the predominant opinion being positive. Passing new laws now could stifle innovation, or worse, they won’t focus on the real issues that don’t know about yet,” says Syracuse University journalism professor Dan Pacheco.
Still, companies can start thinking about policies on existing wearable technology. For instance, many companies who have regulations on using cellphones while driving can expand these to include wearable technology, which will come in handy since experts posit that wearables could prove distracting.