Personal Technology in the Workplace – Wearables​

Monitoring employees. . . helpful, or a bit weird?

When talking about wearables, most people probably imagine fitness-related devices, healthcare trackers and smart watches. They’re incredibly personal things, storing individual information as part of the individual themselves. But imagine if your boss suddenly decided that all company employees would be given compulsory trackers for constant monitoring at work. Some employers already use computer software to track their workers, but wearables would make this all the more personal. For instance, instead of simply checking an office worker’s search history, managers could gather info about their bodies such as physical health. It’s clearly a double-sided coin. . . but what are the positives and negatives of using wearables in the workplace, and how will this change the working environment?

Using wearables to track employees is quite different from watching computer activity through stealthy software. Employees with wearables would be aware that they were being monitored, especially if the chosen device was a kind of smartwatch, or even a headset. It’s fairly obvious as to why a company might want to track employees. Even though automation has taken over a considerable number of processes, humans are still integral to company output and general success. But if an employer wants to kit out their workers with wearables, then they’ll need to consider ethical implications. People are already worried about the possibility of being spied on by nosey drones, so the reaction to blatant tracking devices could be extreme. On the one hand, monitoring staff could be viewed as somewhat draconian, scrutinizing workers and giving them a sharp slap on the wrist if their productivity levels drop. However, for the most part, keeping track of staff could actually be incredibly helpful, both for the employer and employees. For example, if an accident were to happen on the factory floor, workers would simply have to send an alert via their wearables. If there was a fault in the production line, it could be fixed almost immediately without requiring employees to give it a second thought. Everyone would be made accountable for their output, and employers could work out the best way to maximise productivity.

How will wearables disrupt the workplace?
Wearables aren’t just applicable to big industrial firms, and could disrupt small, local businesses. They would be especially useful for companies with external employees, like delivery drivers. If workers willingly wear trackers, companies could benefit hugely from the influx of useful data about how the business itself operates. Wearables could improve communications, saving valuable time as employees interact seamlessly with the head office and other departments. As well as positively impacting the working environment, being able to locate employees and follow processes in real-time would enhance customer experience. For instance, customers could know exactly when an order would be completed, shipped and delivered, down to the second.

However, wearables could also disrupt working environments in a negative way. Instead of encouraging productivity, they could hinder it. Integrating so much personal data about employees into the company system could be a huge security risk. A certain type of cyberattack called Water Holing targets companies via employees. If an employee is digitally connected to the company via a wearable, this could be an enabler for these kinds of attacks.

Gathering personal information may also be seen as an invasion of privacy, and this becomes even more serious if employers keep tracking workers after they’ve left the workplace, and don’t tell them about it either. The lack of defined laws around GPS tracking has led to various legal battles, but it’s not illegal for a business to monitor their employee’s activities outside of work. Whilst this might be useful for the business, it’s doesn’t sit well with many people.

All of this, of course, supposes that employees are human. It’s an entirely different ball game if you imagine a workforce of intelligent machines. Shareholders will be far more inclined to monitor cobots because they are fairly novel installations. . . not to mention the fact that they won’t protest against it.

Fitting employees with trackers might be an employer’s dream, but it’s a risky move. Companies could present themselves as paranoid overlords, cracking the whip on under-performing workers. With a few tweaks, though, wearables in the workplace could be massively useful. An employee would be far more inclined to accept a wearable tracker if they could remove it during their breaks, for instance. Some people will always reject surveillance of this kind, and by implementing a wearable policy, employers could alienate a considerable number of employees. However, in a world where we can unlock our houses with body-implanted chips, is it really that hard to imagine wearables in the workplace? And if human employees do refuse. . . well, there’s probably a robot that can take their place.

From an employer’s perspective, would you monitor your employees via wearables? Will automation lead to more, or less, workplace monitoring? Do the positives of workplace wearables outweigh the benefits? Comment below with your thoughts and experiences.