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How Will Wearables Work in the Workplace?

 
September 20, 2016

There are two sides to most stories, and it is no different in the technology world and definitely no different when it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT brings convenience and efficiency to our lives, but there also are concerns among consumers, regulators and businesses about privacy issues related to these technologies. So, while on one hand, companies such as Texas Instruments are providing real-world IoT solutions for buildings and home automation, creation of smart cities, and enablement of smart manufacturing — on the other hand people are justifiably concerned about sharing data with third parties (financial services providers, law enforcement officials, marketers, or hackers and criminals) and giving them access to the wealth of personal data that can be obtained from smart, connected devices.

As adoption increases, the functionality of wearables and other connected devices is sure to expand beyond just capturing information such as driving patterns, steps walked each day, or damage to an appliance or building. What if a smart device could sense your employees moods and track their emotions and you could help them leverage this capability to enhance their job performance? With IoT, its possible and not so far-fetched. Andrew Lo, a professor of finance at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is conducting research using wristwatch sensors that can measure pulses and perspiration to try to find out if financial traders can be identified based on the ways they respond to volatility in the stock market. Lo expects that these kinds of devices eventually will be widely deployed in all kinds of businesses, not just investment banking, as companies seek more effective ways to monitor employee performance and behavior.

Emotion-monitoring in the Insurance domain
Its easy to imagine many ways that this kind of technology could be used in the insurance industry. The most obvious is with field agents or contact center personnel who are on the front lines with customers. Whether trying to close a sale or solve a problem such as tracking a claim, its essential these professionals be focused and sensitive. They need to maintain a peaceful decorum even if an unhappy policyholder is challenging a claim decision, or a prospect is considering getting a quote from a competitor. The ability to gauge agent or representative stress, frustration or anger not only could help these employees do their jobs better, but could also result in improved customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Similarly, emotion-monitoring devices could help people who work in the field as underwriters, risk managers and claims adjusters. After a natural catastrophe, for example, adjusters must confront distressing and often dangerous conditions. By tracking stress, fear and exhaustion, insurers could stave off burn-out and turnover among their field forces, which in turn could improve adjudication accuracy, claims cycle speed and customer service.

Measuring and analyzing the performance of employees is nothing new, and using wearables and other smart devices to track exertion, stress and recovery has been widely adopted in sports. For example, many professional soccer (football) teams use smart soccer jerseys with sensors that collect data on their players, to better analyze how they are performing. But bringing wearables and emotion-monitoring IoT into service businesses such as insurance and financial services is a new frontier, with some challenges along with the potential benefits.

Its inevitable that many professionals would consider an employers use of these technologies to be a possible invasion of their privacy. Insurers also should be concerned about the risks of use or misuse of these capabilities by vindictive, insensitive or uninformed managers, for example. Another complicating factor is the specter of regulation for applications of these kinds of technologies in the workplace.

But in a world where technology is already contributing to a change in the nature of work, its important for you to understand the role the IoT might play in your workplace.

Ultimately, whether or not you take advantage of the ability to digitally assess employee emotions will depend on how well the technologies help you improve employee engagement, retain talent and provide a better customer experience.

So, how do you think wearables can bring a difference at your organization? And how are you planning for it?

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Katherine Burger is a Practice Lead with the Insurance and Healthcare unit at Tata Consultancy Services. She is a thought leader and communicator in the area of business technology, with a particular focus on analyzing the ways technology enables financial services organizations to be more productive, competitive and profitable. She served as Editorial Director of Insurance & Technology from 1991-2015 and Bank Systems & Technology from 2003-2015. At I&T and BS&T, in addition to directing the editorial strategy of both brands, Kathy handled both digital- and print-medium publications, spanning from new products and editorial supplements to live and online events, including summits, forums, webinars and roundtables. Kathy has been a frequent speaker and/or moderator at financial services industry conferences, and also has presented at a number of technology company user group and sales force events. She is a graduate of Carleton College.