How the Apple Watch, Fitbit and Other Wearables are Transforming the Workplace

From Fitbits to the Apple Watch, wearable technologies have become incredibly popular with consumers.

Many large organizations, intrigued by the extraordinary value that wearables can deliver, are looking to bring them into the enterprise as well. Wearables can help both large businesses and public-sector enterprises save money, boost productivity, improve safety and enhance learning, researchers and analysts say.

Fitness trackers, smart watches and smart glasses, augmented reality headbands and even smart clothing equipped with biometric sensors are among the most popular wearable devices for the enterprise market, says Aditya Kaul, research director for Tractica.

“In the past 12 months, a lot of new devices have reached the market, leading to new use cases for enterprises,” Kaul says. “The market changes at a fast pace, but it’s still just at the beginning, with lots of room to grow.”

Enterprises see these devices as a way to not only increase productivity, but also improve employee health.

“We see wearable technologies like fitness devices as a way to incentivize overall wellness and fitness for employees,” says Tom Emrich, founder of the We Are Wearables community. “Employers can encourage the use of these devices to create much happier and healthier employees.”

How Wearables Fit in the Enterprise

Applications for wearable devices in the enterprise market vary as much as the devices themselves. For example:

  • Voice-controlled headsets and wearable cameras give construction workers hands-free access to up-to-date project information.
  • Fitness trackers for corporate wellness participants encourage users to lead a healthy lifestyle.
  • Smart clothes monitor air quality for miners and firemen.

Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland is one of the first higher education institutions to use Microsoft’s HoloLens virtual reality headgear for medical education.

HoloLens allows the university’s anatomy students to see and interact with a three-dimensional cadaver hologram. Students can move the cadaver with a hand gesture and remove organs and other anatomy to see the function of arterial and venal systems.

“This is a truly unique experience that gives us opportunities to present information in a manner that is just not possible any other way,” says Mark Griswold, professor of radiology at Case Western and leader of the HoloLens research project. “The practical benefits of this technology for higher education are vast. We will likely continue to discover new uses for years to come.”

Wearables also offer organizations the potential for major cost savings.

A heating and air conditioning manufacturer, for example, could use smart glasses to connect workers in the field with experts at a headquarters facility to provide specialized help during a job, says Jeff Orr, research director for workplace automation and enterprise mobility with ABI Research.

“Wearable technologies will radically improve workflow, the time on task and the accuracy of completing specific job duties for different industries,” Orr says. “For some, operational savings will add up very quickly.”

Orr says textile makers will soon embed wireless sensors within the uniforms of first responders, which could identify the location of each responder during man-down situations.

“If a firefighter lays prone and has not moved for 30 seconds, commanders can get an alert to send help,” Orr says. “We haven’t seen that kind of integration into textiles yet due to issues with durability from reuse, but when it occurs it will likely become the largest wearable segment for consumer and enterprise applications.”