Augmenting the Employee Experience with Wearables at Work

As the technology advances, IT leaders reimagine work with wearable devices and applications.

Could virtual reality headsets enhance IT support services for remote employees? What if workers could navigate the office with augmented reality maps? How might IT deliver more personalized mobile experiences with smartwatch data or in-ear virtual assistants?

This could be the future of work with wearable technology: smartwatches, smart glasses, headsets, smart headphones and other internet-enabled devices worn on the body. As adoption grows and the technology matures, IT leaders consider ways wearables will transform the employee experience.

Work Improves

“One of the biggest benefits of wearables is the productivity that’s gained,” proclaims Shankar Iyer, senior vice president and general manager of VMware End-User Computing.

Users initially adopted wearables for health, fitness and entertainment, but both employees and employers start to see the value of wearables for work, such as:

  • Constant Connectivity: Many workers use personal smartwatches to receive hands-free email and meeting notifications. This makes it easy for workers to stay on top of updates and prioritize tasks while they’re away from the desk.
  • Accelerated Access: Smartwatches and other wearables can provide workers with password-free, instant access to work resources. The always-on nature of wearables (e.g. always online and always on the body) likens the devices to a personal key that could unlock anything, from printers to laptops. “Let’s say it’s 8 o’clock in the morning, and you reach your office and you can’t get badged in because you forgot your badge at home,” Iyer proposes. “Now, imagine if the same thing were done with your smartwatch, essentially authenticating you to an electronic badge reader, and you breeze right through.”
  • Quick Training: Augmented reality (AR) displays overlay steps, diagrams and other digital instructions onto real-world objects so employees can efficiently learn complex tasks. It’s not hard to imagine office workers using an AR headset to operate new equipment or to share 3D presentations with co-workers.

These are just a few basic examples of wearables for knowledge workers. Leading companies already reimagine workflows with wearables in much bigger ways to gain a competitive edge.

An Ecosystem Evolves

The introduction and advancement of surrounding technologies makes the future of wearables at work even more promising.

  • Speed and Intelligence: Wearable devices are only as valuable as the data transmitted to and from these devices. Emerging technologies will increase the quantity, quality and value of this data. For example, edge computing could enable the data collected on wearables to be processed at the device. 5G networks could quickly transfer massive amounts of this data back to the cloud, where machine learning applications could return intelligent insights or automatically take data-driven actions. These innovations will dramatically improve the performance and usefulness of wearable devices and applications in the workplace.
  • Connected Workspaces: The workplace of the future is part human and part machine. Smart things (smart printers and smart TVs), autonomous things (robots and autonomous vehicles), proximity-based sensors, virtual assistants and other technologies will work in concert to augment and enhance the employee experience. As IT plugs workers’ wearables into these connected workspaces, new applications and refined workflows will emerge.
  • Management and Security: Of course, all this information—enterprise data on smartwatches, confidential communications on hearables, intellectual property on the display of smart glasses—must be managed and secured. Now in its mature stages, digital workspace technology enables enterprise IT to secure access to work resources across these new form factors and varied operating systems. “Any device that employees use to access company apps and data must be secured to prevent data leaks or hacks,” Shankar explains. “Wearable technology should managed and secured, alongside mobile phones and desktops.”

    smartwatch wearables at work

    Smartwatches are the most popular device among wearable technologies. What if enterprises plugged these always-on devices into the connected workspace?

Adoption Grows

During the last decade, tech enthusiasts expected wearables to be the next big thing at work. Initially, smart glasses never caught on with workers or consumers. Progressive manufacturers and healthcare organizations experimented with wearables for engineers and patients, but the devices remained largely absent in the typical enterprise.

Slowly demand grew. In 2019, researchers at Gartner expect 25 percent global growth for wearable devices. In three years, Gartner predicts total shipments will more than double.

“It’s not a fad,” Iyer cautions. “Enterprise wearables could exceed $60 billion by 2022.

Over a third of total estimated purchases in 2019 will be smartwatches. By 2022, ear-worn wearables, or “hearables,” like Apple AirPods will be the most popular wearable device, followed by smartwatches and head-mounted displays (e.g. augmented reality and virtual reality).

Mobility Transforms

Manufacturers, retailers and healthcare providers were ahead of the curve when it comes to piloting and implementing wearable technology at work. Now, companies across industries embed wearables into workflows and employee experiences.

“It’s a great experience that you get used to, much like you’re used to smartphones these days,” Iyer says.

Learn how other IT organizations transform their mobile strategy to support wearables at the VMware End-User Computing Blog.