From fitness trackers to smart glasses to head-mounted displays (HMDs), the wearable technology industry (part of the Internet of Things) has boomed in recent years. In fact, Gartner predicts that worldwide shipments of wearable devices will reach 225 million this year.
Organizations are taking notice. “As the awareness of the benefits of these products improves, we are seeing [an] increasing number of companies embracing the benefits of wearables,” says Pankaj Kedia, head of smart wearables at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.
With this increased adoption, how can wearable devices support learning and development (L&D)? Here are four benefits to consider.
1. Efficient Onboarding
By bringing training directly to the learners, and ensuring they have continuous access to the information they need to be immediately productive on the job, wearable devices can more efficiently onboard employees. They especially benefit retail and hospitality workers, whose training has typically meant less time serving customers.
By equipping these workers with wearable devices, “they’re able to have training while still on the sales floor, and [they’re] able to pause and engage with customers as needed … They’re not in the back putting in a VHS tape on an old-school TV monitor,” says Amber Pizano, head of marketing at Theatro. They start working as soon as they clock in and still receive the training they need — right in their ear, as Pizano says.
About the size of a matchbox, Theatro’s wearable device connects a voice assistant (similar to Siri or Alexa) to an employee’s headset to answer questions in real time, as they interact with customers. “It also connects with their enterprise system, so [they] can get price, inventory [and] product information,” Pizano says. Theatro also offers automated training to all new users.
Wearable technology can also improve employee communication on the job. For example, QualComm Technologies’ platforms integrate multiple forms of connectivity, including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and 4G LTE. “Whether it is reaching someone over a text or MMS [multimedia messaging service], calling for a short chat, holding a quick video conference, or staying connected over a social network, wearables help employees stay in touch all the time,” Kedia says. By staying connected, new hires can better assimilate into the organization and easily get in touch with other team members should they need assistance.
2. Constant Coaching
Most employees could benefit from coaching to help them reach their full potential and shape them into powerful organizational contributors and, in many cases, future leaders. However, leaders are not always available to provide employees with the coaching they need — which is where wearable devices come in. Leaders can pre-record tips, tricks and tutorials into many wearable devices to help employees navigate common challenges they may face on the job.
For example, RealWear’s devices are worn on the head to facilitate knowledge transfer in industrial settings. Sanjay Jhawar, co-founder and chief product officer at RealWear, says, “A lot of what our system is used for is to help transfer that knowledge from the expert to the less experienced person at the point where [you’re] in the field, at the point when you’re up to your arms in gloves and power tools and safety equipment.”
Jhawar credits “remote mentoring” as another application of wearable technology, as it allows industrial employees working in the field to video-call off-site expert technicians anywhere, anytime. The expert can offer his or her expertise and share training materials, such as manuals or diagrams, through an image captured by the device.
“It’s like having all of the experts in the company right there with you as a voice along the way, whether it’s their recorded information or live assistance,” Jhawar says. “Think about the reduced amount of time when you take people and you put them in classrooms, versus doing revenue-generating work in the field.”
3. Improved Safety
There are numerous ways that wearables can improve employee safety, such as connecting employees in emergency situations like natural disasters or shootings. If all employees are equipped with a wearable device in these situations, “not only do you know where all your associates are, but you can talk to them immediately,” Pizano says. “You get significantly more communication and better coordination during emergency situations, which, in this day and age, is becoming so much more important than ever before.”
Additionally, for many industrial workers, trying to find information on a laptop or mobile device poses a safety risk, as they need both hands free to safely operate machinery and other equipment, Jhawar notes. By keeping them hands-free, wearable devices allow industrial workers to access the learning materials they need — without risking their safety in the process.
Wearable devices, Jhawar says, are “taking all this knowledge, whether it’s in documents or video recordings of experts doing tasks or step-by-step instructions … and just putting that six inches away from your brain, a voice command away.”
4. Increased Engagement in Wellness Programs
With the global wearable fitness trackers market expected to reach $48.2 billion by 2023, it’s safe to say that people will continue using wearable devices to reach their health and fitness goals. In addition to measuring statistics like the number of steps taken and calories burned, some wearable devices can measure heart health, posture, stress and metabolism, according to the AARP.
Now, organizations are using wearable devices to engage more employees in their wellness programs. “Wearable solutions can play a significant role in helping employees get fit, stay healthy, be productive and stay in touch with friends and colleagues,” Kedia says. “A happy employee is a productive employee.”
Wellness programs help reduce sick days, lower company health care costs, and drive productivity and engagement, so many businesses are looking for ways to improve engagement in their wellness initiatives. For example, at Iron Mountain, a records and data management company, “About 1,600 of the company’s 8,000 U.S. employees use different types of consumer-grade wearable devices, such as Fitbit or Apple Watch, to measure how many steps they take and to generate other fitness metrics,” according to a ComputerWorld article. As a result, Iron Mountain’s tech-enabled wellness program, LiveWell, has helped boost employee wellness, reduced doctor visits and lowered the company’s health care costs for the first time since 2013.
Wearable devices seem to be here to stay. By getting on board, L&D can benefit from a more efficient onboarding process, continuous coaching for employees, improved safety and increased engagement in wellness initiatives. It will also be a part of a trend that has the potential to transform even more aspects of life and work in the future.