Should You Let Employees Use Wearables at Work?

Do wearables have a role to play in the workplace? Judging by the growing number of devices worn by employees both at home and at work, the answer appears to be “yes.”

The trend of enterprise wearables seems headed in the same direction as smartphones and tablets at work. Because consumers are so comfortable with the devices in their daily lives, it makes sense that they would want to use them in the workplace.

Two of the key questions for IT and business leaders with regard to enterprise wearables are: What apps should employees be allowed to use on the job? How can companies best manage devices that are part of the work environment?

Worldwide demand for these devices—including smartwatches, fitness monitors, wristbands, head-mounted displays, smart garments and other products—is expected to grow 18 percent this year to 274.6 million units, according to Gartner. Sales of wearable electronic devices will generate revenue of $28.7 billion in 2016, the firm says, and of that, $11.5 billion will be from smartwatches.

Enterprise Wearables Include a Variety of Fitness Trackers

Fitness wearables—including wristbands, smart garments, chest straps, sports watches and other fitness monitors—continue to increase in popularity, the report says, driven in part by U.S. wellness programs.

The use of wearables in the workplace is on the rise, but growth is slow and is coming from a small base right now, says Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst, Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers, at International Data Corp. (IDC).

“The drivers vary at the moment,” Ubrani says. “Companies like Fitbit are doing a great job with their corporate wellness programs to help companies reduce or control health care costs while boosting employee health and morale. Meanwhile, there are quite a few companies out there who are interested in AR [augmented reality] and are currently piloting eye-worn devices.”

With fitness trackers, some companies have seen significant cost savings by motivating their employees to lead healthier lifestyles, Ubrani adds. “This has the added benefit of improving morale, as employees partake in friendly competition,” he says.

Wearable Devices Can Create a Healthier Workforce

Wayne Densch, a Sanford, Fla., beer distribution company, has used wearable devices to achieve an 85 percent participation rate in its wellness program. The business is enrolled in a program called UnitedHealthcare Motion, a wearable device wellness program that links the use of wearable devices with custom-designed fitness trackers.

The program, which began earlier this year, enables employees and their covered spouses to earn up to $1,460 per year in Health Reimbursement Account (HRA) credits by meeting daily walking targets, including frequency, intensity and tenacity, explains Thomas Williams, director of accounting at Wayne Densch.

The UnitedHealthcare proprietary device is called a Trio and was built to track specific walking goals. The water-resistant devices can be worn around the wrist or attached to clothing.

The devices are given to employees and covered spouses as part of the employer-sponsored plan at no additional cost, Williams says, adding that, at this time, other devices are not integrated into the program.