Wearable computing and augmented reality will reveal our
lives to the world, and change every aspect of our working days.
You’re at work, reading a dashboard displaying data from the
tracking device you’ve been wearing to improve your health. Your sleeping,
eating and exercise habits have improved, but you’ve noticed a worrying
pattern. Every day from 2-2.30pm, for the past two months, your wristband
device has indicated increased levels of stress, as measured by perspiration.
The dashboard notes changes in your “little data”
‘ granular information about your health ‘ and lists potential diagnoses so you
can take action. In this case, stress could lead to hypertension and high blood
pressure. Looking at your calendar, you realize why those 30 minutes are
fraught with such tension. Your new manager ‘ we’ll call him Bob ‘ demeans you
during daily meetings, comparing you to colleagues in an attempt to raise
productivity. Visible on your screen are the results of his tactics: they’re
undermining your efforts to improve your health.
Two weeks later you’re standing with a group of colleagues
in your CEO’s office. You produce a report showing three months of data proving
you’re all suffering similar, adverse health effects. Timestamps indicate
tension spikes directly correlating to visits from Bob.
“If Bob stays on as a manager, our health premiums will
rise dramatically next year,” you say to your CEO. “More importantly,
unless things change, we’ll all need to look for new jobs based on a simple
fact as laid out in that report.” You pause for effect.
“Bob is killing us.”
This scenario might sound futuristic, but isn’t as
far-fetched as it seems. Someone at your office is probably already using a
Fitbit or other wearable device that tracks health or other behavior. No longer
a nascent sector occupied solely by Quantified
enthusiasts, Dow Jones estimates the health-sensor market to
surpass 400m devices and $4bn by 2014. The technology is already here; it’s
mainly privacy and protocol challenges that prevent the above scenario from
In fact, the dashboards, data output and health correlations
described are standard for today’s wearable sensors. Many organizations already
are beginning to use them to help improve employees’ health and wellbeing while
lowering healthcare premiums.
It’s a trend that’s bound to make individuals less cavalier
about how they currently share personal data. After all, health information
holds intimate details that affect our economics, not just our privacy.
What’s more, the vapor trail of data we’re leaving about
ourselves will soon be visible on devices we’ll wear over our eyes and ears. In
effect, we’re becoming transhuman ‘ using technologies to enhance physical or
mental capabilities to the point where people and machines effectively become
We’re essentially at that stage now, via ubiquitous
smartphones. We’re just under the illusion that, because these devices aren’t
part of us physically, they don’t control us.
But technologies in the works today would integrate man and
machine even further. In August, Google filed a patent for an
advertisement-based system called Pay Per
. Used in conjunction with a head-mounted device like Google Glass, the
company hopes to charge advertisers when people wearing the device look at
their ads. The patent also describes the next phase of the technology, “pay
“, where pupil dilation or other physiological responses to
advertising stimuli would be measured in real time so Google can monetize your
Instead of advertisements, devices in the workplace could
monitor people’s faces for visual cues to track employee sentiments throughout
the day. Not engaged in a meeting? Your device could send a
“see-mail” to your boss indicating your blood pressure slowed during
a presentation indicating boredom.
Eye tracking could also be used to see if someone’s gaze
lingers inappropriately on the body parts of a colleague ‘ leer too long and
your data could appear in court. Whatever the behavior, the vapor trails we
leave at relating to our emotions, health and character will soon be visible in
ways they never have before.
While this type of work-based tracking may seem creepy,
people are already measuring themselves for these types of insights. So the
push to use these tools and methodologies is more likely to come from employees
who don’t want to stop using their devices during work hours than from a
“I have no doubt these types of things will
happen,” says Brian Wassom, an expert on augmented
and a partner at Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP, a
Michigan-based international business law firm. “People could also wear
clothes with sensors to know which parts of their outfits are most appealing so
they can gauge their wardrobes accordingly.”
Your brain at work
This data could also be used to make work life more
sustainable. For example, Neumitra, a Boston-based company, is developing
wearable and mobile technologies that monitor the effects of stress on the
brain’s health and performance. The technologies aggregate health data to
provide insights about when employees are at their best or when they need a
Neumitra’s work is proving that working smarter means
recognizing the fundamental limits and power of the greatest asset that
knowledge workers possess ‘ their brains. Neumitra founder Robert Goldberg
“The number of hours a truck driver can be on the road
is strictly limited, but staff at hospitals are pushed to work an insane number
of hours and still be expected to be at their best.”
Real-time data showing the balance of working efficacy and
wellbeing could help leaders recognize when employees ‘ and their productivity
‘ would benefit more from a protein shake or a nap than longer nights at the
Rewards-based tracking provides another positive way for
organizations to introduce these methods to employees. Take Allstate’s
Drivewise App as a precedent. It monitors customers’ driving, alerting them of
higher-risk behaviors and rewarding safe drivers with lower insurance rates.
Drivers might’ve been expected to baulk at the idea of having their cars
monitored, but the offer of lower rates ‘ seven out of 10 drivers save money
through the program ‘ has attracted volunteers.
Similarly, offering rewards for improved behavior ‘ on a
voluntary basis ‘ will be a primary way to make employees feel comfortable with
sharing their personal data in the workplace.
A data with destiny
It would be a mistake to think that devices revealing data
about health and behavior can be kept out of the workplace. As more people
monitor various aspects of their health ‘ from cholesterol levels to their
number of steps each day ‘ data is getting personal. It’s inevitable that
you’ll soon see the impacts at work.
As these technologies and data become increasingly available,
transhuman resource departments ‘ in which human resource professionals help
navigate the intersection of carbon and silicon in the workplace, balancing
workplace productivity and ethics ‘ will become standard.
The scenarios involving sensor-enabled devices and
augmented-reality-visualization tools are endless. But now is the time for
organizations to establish protocols regarding privacy, ethics and etiquette
that make sense for their stakeholders. It’s best to develop a vision for
handling these issues now; otherwise, when the day of this data arrives, you
may not like what you see.