Americans love gadgets, especially the digital kind. They connect us to a wider world, expedite communications, fill in the lulls of boring commutes on planes or buses, help us navigate unfamiliar areas, and even keep us fit. It’s no wonder that the leap toward wearable technologies has been so profound. In 2015, nearly 40 million U.S. adults owned some type of wearable tech, an increase of over 57 percent from the previous year. By 2018, analysts predict that usage to climb to 82 percent. What’s interesting, however, is how our European neighbors have transformed wearables into workplace productivity and wellness solutions. These smart, portable devices could become the next evolution of talent analytics for MSP program managers and their staffing partners in the United States.
Wearables in the Workplace: HR Power Tools
Personal fitness devices like Fitbit continue to flourish. People from all walks of life are using these tools when running, biking or walking to measure their progress. The devices feed data into an app through cloud-based transmissions. Users can then track their weight loss, heart rate, sleeping patterns and other wellness goals. These wearable technologies are encouraging individuals across every demographic to reach their self-improvement targets while developing a deeper understanding of and respect for big data.
By some estimates, 44 percent of U.S. workers already wear fitness trackers to the office. And that trend is leading businesses to explore the possibilities of tapping into wearables as a powerful HR system. In places like the United Kingdom, Australia and Sweden, the possibilities have become realities. What are the outcomes? According to the study “The Human Cloud at Work” by U.K.-based Rackspace, companies who took advantage of wearables found their employees to be 8.5 percent more productive and 3.5 percent happier on the job.
How Wearable Tech Can Drive MSP Program Performance
The benefits of workplace wearables reach far beyond time-management and motion studies. They have the ability to provide HR leaders and managers with data they previously couldn’t attain, and then measure the analytics to create greater levels of efficiency. For MSP program managers and staffing suppliers, these devices represent new opportunities to optimize program performance.
Wearables Improve Safety and Reduce Risk
Preventing workplace injuries is serious business. A safe environment is free from absences, reductions in productivity and operational disruptions. Taking precautions to eliminate hazards protects workers, their incomes and the company’s bottom line, while promoting stronger morale. In Construction Executive, an online magazine from Britain, Andrew Ronchi cites a great example of how wearables overcame problems for a global construction firm.
“VINCI Construction UK employed wearable sensors on its bricklayers to collect objective data, ultimately reducing the risk of lower back injury and increasing productivity and efficiency,” Ronchi explains. “The results allowed the company to make an informed business decision based on real data rather than intuition.” The figures were impressive.
- An 85-percent reduction in time spent with a worker’s back bent over 20 degrees.
- An 84-percent reduction in lower back muscle activation.
- Repetition of high risk movements were decreased by 70 percent.
- The company realized a 17-percent increase in productivity, calculated as bricks-laid-per-minute.
Truckers in Australia’s Rio Tinto coal mines use a wearable device called the SmartCap. This baseball hat relies on embedded sensors to measure a driver’s level of alertness. If it detects fatigue, the SmartCap issues an early warning signal as the operator approaches a state of “micro-sleep.” This simple cap has done wonders in preventing accidents that result from sleeping behind the wheel.
For MSP program managers who oversee industrial engagements, the benefits of these wearables should seem obvious. Yet what about office environments? The same strategies apply. Proper ergonomics play an important role in mitigating the risks associated with back problems, eye strain, carpal tunnel syndrome and more. So a wearable device like Heddoko could do the trick.
Heddoko measures real-time movements and sends feedback to “inform workplace decisions, evaluate job requirements, and redesign work environments” to maximize ergonomic conditions.
Wearables Foster Health and Wellness
A budding trend in corporate culture is the institution of wellness programs. For businesses, a thoroughly organized wellness program helps reduce insurance costs associated with illness. For workers, it helps maintain mental and physical fitness. By using wearable technologies, many enterprises are able to track employee health.
In 2015, BP gave 24,500 Fitbit devices to its North American staff. By collecting data pertinent to health and productivity, the company had more information than ever before to guide its decisions in creating a safe environment. Employees enjoyed lower healthcare costs, fewer sick days and higher morale. Retention rates rose. BP realized additional value from the data because the results demonstrated the success of wellness initiatives.
Why does that matter? The numbers are tightly linked to health policy premiums and other incentive programs. Insurance underwriters trust hard data more than self-reporting. As a result, the analytics generated by fitness wearables empower businesses to negotiate lower rates on corporate benefits and insurance policies.
One of the biggest boons associated with contingent labor usage is cost savings. A good share of that comes from avoiding the statutory taxes and mandated benefits a business would have to pay its full-time talent. Staffing providers, meanwhile, remain on the hook for those costs. MSPs and their staffing partners are still struggling to comply with legislation such as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and keep their rates competitive. By working with clients to adopt wearables in the workplace, MSP program managers can support staffing suppliers in gathering data they can use to launch meaningful wellness programs and lower their premiums. The talent win, the suppliers win and the clients win.
Wearables Increase Efficiency
The British grocery chain Tesco, which formerly owned the now defunct Fresh and Easy markets in the United States, distributes armbands with embedded sensors to its workers. The wearables track the goods being transported across up to 90 aisles in some stores. As John Boitnott writes in Entrepreneur, “These armbands make it unnecessary for the workers to mark clipboards. The devices also give their managers an estimated completion time, and could check the correct order fulfillment, among other information.”
The sensors used in wearables such these focus on what Boitnott calls “more efficient knowledge work,” rather than just fitness. The devices can analyze movement, stress, time spent completing tasks, and then provide additional insights to the user. At Boeing, workers wear gear that can actually offer instructions to wire assembly professionals, which eliminates the need for them to consult with manuals. The technology expedites processes, satisfies immediate needs and reduces the time to reach objectives.
Productivity wearables can do even more. Boitnott explains: “For example, there is now an EEG headband that helps you understand your cognitive patterns, thereby giving you insights on when you are at your most creative or productive.”
Despite the wealth of talent analytics that MSPs have at their disposal, the data collected by wearables presents a deeper, more personalized type of intelligence. As we’ve seen in the preceding examples, wearables can assist MSP program managers in creating greater levels of performance and output. The devices can eliminate manual processes, shorten time-consuming tasks, facilitate immediate communication between workers and managers, automate the validation of completed tasks in real time, transmit important details about productivity or fatigue, and much more.
Overcoming Challenges and Privacy Concerns
Even though the popularity of wearables continues to soar, many workers worry about privacy. If implemented improperly or carelessly, wearables seem intrusive — less like productivity tools and more like surveillance equipment. Let’s face it, even among social generations who happily post intimate details of their lives online, not every worker wants to be monitored. Here are some best practices to keep in mind.
- Encourage the use of wearable devices as an option, not a mandatory policy.
- Be transparent with talent about how data will be collected and used. Clearly communicate what information you’ll be gathering and precisely what you’ll do with it.
- Do not use data for disciplinary purposes. Act on data as a way to improve overall workplace conditions, management strategies and safety initiatives.
- Ensure that the wearable device sends encrypted data to the appropriate recipients — not external parties that sell the information to others for sales or marketing purposes.
- Consult with legal counsel to make certain the wearables don’t violate labor or privacy regulations. Although devices like Fitbit generally fall outside the purview of the FDA or HIPAA, some states govern their own privacy and security laws for data collection activities.
- Work with talent to disclose and help them understand any security risks for personal devices used. With company issued wearables, these protections should already be in place. It’s a more difficult situation when workers are allowed to integrate their own tools.
- Become absolutely familiar with the terms of service drafted by the device’s manufacturer and/or service provider. Some include limitations on an employer’s use of data.
- A third party provider that hosts data could ease privacy concerns. They allow workers to access their data privately, while management can view only aggregated analytics — not personalized information for each individual.
From Novelty to Norm
The days of wearable technologies as a fad for fitness junkies and nerds have passed. These devices are here for the long haul, and their benefits increase every day. Given enough time, they could very well become part of the exponential technologies that are already improving health and living conditions around the world. For MSP program managers and staffing providers, these devices hold the promise of new performance achievements, greater morale, higher retention rates, alluring employment brands and stronger margins.