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Wearable technology, like Google Glass or Jawbone, could soon be coming to an office near you.
Could your boss really require you to use such futuristic — and even voyeuristic — gadgets? Experts suggest that they can and probably will.
IT goes first
Frank Schloendorn — director of Android ecosystems at Fiberlink, a mobile device management firm — believes wearable tech will make workers more productive.
Fiberlink, which recently came out with a Google Glass platform for its mobility management software, envisions a world in which IT employees track down missing smartphones, secure company data and police the company network — all without turning on a laptop.
But this world isn't futuristic. It's now possible with Google Glass, which lets users execute complicated tasks — like locating GPS-enabled smartphones, deleting files and dictating emails — through voice commands and simple hand gestures.
"Using Glass, you can effectively manage devices without even taking your phone out of your pocket," said Schloendorn. "You can see out-of-compliance events and devices with a small verbal command. You can reset an end user's passcode by a tap of the finger. That level of access is unheard of."
Despite his enthusiasm for wearable technology, Schloendorn doesn't think it's poised to overtake the smartphone or tablet market.
"We believe that wearable computing is certainly technology that corporations will purchase for employees in specific use cases," said Schloendorn. "It just makes sense if wearable computing makes a job easier, faster or safer."
But you might start to see such products popping up in tech-heavy departments, like IT, where most business technologies get their foot in the door.
Happier, healthier employees
Google Glass — which isn't even widely available for purchase yet — isn't the only piece of wearable technology that might be put to work in the near future.
Melissa Thompson — CEO and founder of TalkSession, an online counseling platform and staunch advocate for mental health care reform in the U.S. — believes that using wearable tech in the workplace just makes good sense.
"The use of self-monitoring devices is a personal decision," said Thompson. "Nevertheless, it is in an employer's best interest to encourage and support its employees in their efforts toward health and wellness improvement."
Self-monitoring devices are designed to make people happier and healthier, Thompson said. And who benefits most from happy, healthy people? The people who employ them, of course.
"According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, depression alone was estimated to cause 200 million lost workdays each year, costing employers up to $44 billion," Thompson said.
She also noted that chronic diseases, like diabetes, amount to major costs for employers as well, in both absenteeism and direct health care costs.
"The cost of self-monitoring devices is a small fraction of the overall health care costs that occur as a result of physical and mental illness," Thompson said.
In fact, insurers are increasingly investing in preventative-care measures and gadgets that monitor blood pressure, heart rate and exercise regimens, and these gadgets might have a place in that preventative-care model, Thompson said.
Is it legal?
Just because wearable technology will soon be widely available, it doesn't mean it's ethical — or even legal — for companies to incorporate it into workplace culture.
Greg Noble, an employment attorney with O'Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble in Westfield, N.J., believes it's legal for employers to require the use of the technology.
"I don't see any illegality with an employer requiring their employees to use certain equipment," Noble said. "If you're a construction worker, the bosses are going to say, 'These are the tools you're using.'"
However, Noble also noted that there are several issues that could arise with the use of such devices in the workplace.
"It all comes down to an individual's right to privacy in the workplace," Noble said. "[Wearable technology] could raise some privacy concerns."
Google Glass — which can discreetly record audio and video and snap candid photos — could certainly pose a threat to individual privacy.
And health-monitoring devices — like Jawbone UP, Fitbit Flex and Nike+ FuelBand — raise legal concerns of their own when used in the workplace, Noble said. Even if such devices are used on a strictly voluntary basis (as advocates like Thompson believe they should be), legal issues could still arise.
It all depends on who has access to the information collected by such health-monitoring devices. If employers or insurers see an employee's personal health information and then decide to fire him or her for completely unrelated reasons, the employer could still face discrimination charges, Noble said.
But as Fiberlink's Schloendorn pointed out, such risks are inherent to a company's adoption of new tech tools.
"There are always concerns around new technology, especially technology that you can wear," Schloendorn said. "Risk is very individual and different for each person and each organization."
Schloendorn said Fiberlink considers wearable technology just another manifestation of mobile devices — like smartphones, tablets or laptops — and the company treats wearable tech in the same way.
"Restrictions on their use or adoption should be considered and should be consistent with similar devices or technology within a company," he said.