Wearable technology: Unleashing a new era in people management
Tuesday, September 6, 2016 4:21:27 PM

The emergence of wearable technology has resulted in the creation of devices that are able to build up employees’ biological profiles, thereby enabling us to study and determine when they are at their optimal physical state and when they are at a low ebb. It is being called as ‘human optimization.’

Wearable technology has already been embraced by the world of sports. Especially, elite sports teams worldwide are using this technology to ensure the physical condition of their team members ahead of important events. According to Dr. Chris Brauer, director of innovation at Goldsmiths, University of London, a firm in the UK, named Extreme Biometrics, is making use of Cardiac Vagal Tone (CVT) levels in order to check the stress level in racing car drivers. They are doing it for the McLaren team.

Elaborating the point, Brauer said, "They're able to do things like evaluate, as the drivers are approaching a corner, at what point they start to get anxious and stressed." Such data enable McLaren to find out the optimum stress level to take the bends, thereby helping the team better train and assess new drivers.

With modern businesses exploring various ways to enhance productivity, they are more interested to monitor how their employees are dealing with various physiological traits and stress. For example, there are some wearable devices that will inform employers how stressed their employees are, how they are sleeping, and how frequently they leave their desks. According to Brauer, “The use of wearable devices to capture that type of personal information could become a routine part of corporate life in the near future, as companies seek ways to make workforces more productive.”

Several wearable devices, like smart bands and watches, can track a person’s fitness level by checking his/her steps, sleeping hours, and heart rate and are intended for health-conscious people. However, insurers and employers are now increasingly leveraging these devices and using the data to enhance staff productivity and minimize risks. For example, BioBeats—a startup—is using machine learning to collect information from the physiological data gathered by wearables. Davide Morelli, CTO of BioBeats, said, “Imagine a trading floor, the stress you're exposed to every day is very high and you make decisions very quickly. Stress is very important for the quality of those decisions."

The company is exploring how to monitor when the stress level is at the highest rate. Although a certain degree of stress can assist traders in taking profitable decisions, “if it goes too high and stays too high for too long, it can become a danger because you can become less focused," added Morelli.

A report by Tractica—a Colorado-based market research company with specialties in health tracking and wearable devices—has revealed that the market for corporate and industry customers of wearables is expected to grow at a phenomenal speed over the coming five years. Although corporate customers account for only 1% sales of wearable devices, they are expected to make up 17% by 2020. Wearable shipments to the enterprise and industrial customers are expected to increase to 27.5 million in 2020 from 166,000 units in 2013, at a compound annual growth rate of 108%.

Tractica’s Aditya Kaul and Clint Wheelcock said, “This is part of a larger trend of people analytics within companies where Big Data and machine learning is being used to enhance human resource functions, such as hiring and retention, sales and employee satisfaction.”

People analytics: Putting data into human perspective

Although new, people analytics is a growing trend in the realm of HR. Using it, the HR department is adopting various data-driven approaches to manage people. Google is a shining example. The company has a people analytics team comprising engineers, organizational behavior experts, and HR managers. The team is engaged in studying and conducting experiments on various issues pertaining to people management. The company’s data-oriented “people operations” unit is one of the main reasons behind its highly productive workforce.

Dr. John Coates, a fellow in neuroscience and finance in the University of Cambridge specializing in the biology of stress and risk taking, revealed, “Up to now, if you weren’t doing well at your job, most people thought the corrective was more information or better reasoning, some kind of psychological intervention.” He also added, “People are just wrapping their brain around this idea that if your body’s a mess, you’re not going to do very well at anything cognitive.”

Earlier, wearable technology laid emphasis on enhancing security and efficiency at the workplace. However, the latest technologies, for the first time, have enabled companies to align their employees’ physiological and behavioral data with their organizational performance, thereby improving companies’ performance and ability to manage the workforce better.