HR in the Future: Wearables in the Workplace

Steve Boese Audacious Ideas, HR, HR Tech, HR Technology, Steve Boese

If you are someone that cares about the future of the HR/Talent profession, (And just to get it out of the way, the real future of the HR/Talent game has absolutely nothing to do with certifications or SHRM or HRCI or anything of the sort. So, if you have spent more than 10 minutes worrying or thinking about that certification stuff, that is about 8 minutes too long.), then I think you should start paying much closer attention to what is happening with wearable technologies, and what the increased use of wearable technologies in the workplace will influence what it means to deliver great HR/Talent management services.

Because delivering HR should be about enabling people in the organization to perform at a high level, providing them access to the best tools and resources they need to help them succeed, while also making sure that at least to the extent that you or any employer can, your people are working in safe conditions and are not placing themselves at unnecessary or avoidable risks.

Wearable technologies in the workplace will, I think, play a significant role in your and the organization’s ability to meet all three of these objectives.

How wearables will improve performance. In a kind of reversal from the last ten or so years in personal technology, where we have seen consumer-first kinds of technologies and applications migrate into the workplace, wearable technologies in many ways are going to be a workplace-driven trend. The longer term strength of wearable technology exists in the potential and opportunity for these devices to be purposefully designed to do a particular work-related task. There are numerous applications and types of wearables, which means wearable devices will be tailored to the job, as opposed to the job being adapted to the device.

How wearables enable real-time and in-context support. This real-time, on-demand, and available precisely when, where, and how its needed presentation of information for decision support and that will enable front-line workers in numerous industries to better and more efficiently get their jobs done might be the most important benefit of wearable tech at work in the near term. The early adopters of Google Glass are in the oil and gas fields, where workers can call up instructions, work through process checklists, and register inventory levels while keeping their hands free to actually do their work.

How wearables will help keep people safe. I’m sure you caught the recent, sad news of the highway accident that injured comedian Tracy Morgan and killed another member of Morgan’s group. The person that has been charged with several felonies for causing the accident was driving a Walmart semi truck and according to reports, had not slept for over 24 hours prior to the accident. Despite numerous existing laws in place that mandate rest periods, breaks, and maximum number of hours that drivers can be behind the wheel, these kinds of accidents involving exhausted and over-worked drivers continue to be an all-too-common occurrence. With simple wearable tech to track wake/sleep patterns, heart rate, responsiveness, etc., combined with monitoring and an alert system (and eventually a link back to the vehicle itself), organizations will be able to potentially prevent these situations before they escalate into accidents with tragic repercussions. There are other wearable tech applications under development to help medical professionals more easily and effectively install IV lines and monitor patient responses.

If you really see HR/Talent Management as the profession that is best positioned in the organization to align people, technology, and capability with the organization’s strategic business objectives, then thinking about how, when, and where wearable technology will make a difference for your people and their work should be on top of the HR pros agenda right now. More than HRIS, ERP, or any other back-office technology that has been introduced in the last 20 years, wearables have the potential to dramatically change the way many types of work gets done. And that is where HR (certainly working with Ops and IT) needs to be. Not worrying about what the letters after your title mean or don’t mean.