Wearables At Work Will Reshape The Office

ReadWriteBody is an ongoing series where ReadWrite covers networked fitness and the quantified self.

Salesforce, the maker of online tools for tracking customers and helping employees collaborate, is the latest company to try and capture the buzz around wearable devices, following in the Nike-clad footsteps of Samsung and Apple. Earlier this week, it introduced Salesforce Wear, a set of code libraries to help build apps that connect Salesforce’s data with smartwatches, activity trackers, computerized glasses, and other sensor-laden gadgets we wear on our bodies.

The obvious thing to do with this software is build simple notification apps. Meetings get more productive if employees aren’t constantly pulling out their smartphones, and can instead stay in touch with a simple glance at the wrist. But I’m more intrigued by the notion of connecting the world of work to the world of fitness.

Out Of The Rat Race And Onto The Treadmill Desk

Most of us spend hours a day at the office, much of it sitting down, at considerable cost to our health. Persuaded by headlines that declare that sitting is the new smoking, we’re trying treadmill desks and other measures to get ourselves moving at work. These are still outliers, though, in a world where most managers define their team’s productivity by the number of butts they see in cubicle seats.

See also: Life (And Work) On The Treadmill

In the United States, thanks to our system of employer-paid healthcare, the cost to our health hits companies’ bottom lines.

One of Salesforce’s new wearables partners is Fitbit, whose devices track steps, sleep, and other wellness metrics. What if we hooked those up to corporate calendars and had an app that automatically scheduled activity breaks or walking meetings? Or, for those lucky enough to work at a company that encourages sleeping on the job, midday naps for the weary road warrior?

Another Salesforce partner, Bionym, makes a device, the Nymi, that uses biological signals like heart rate to identify a person. That has big implications for high-security environments like banks and data centers.

Big Brother Is Watching You Work Out

Going farther into the future, what if our employers ask us to let them measure such signals for other purposes, like detecting stress levels? That seems Orwellian, but some companies already use voice analysis on employees and job applicants. For certain workers, like bus drivers or firefighters, there could be a strong public-safety rationale for such measurements—and researchers are already exploring the concept.

Imagine the impact on company leadership if a CEO could see in real time how her employees reacted to her speech at an all-hands meeting. Do their pulses go up? Are they angry or happy?

There are huge privacy implications here, of course. We already give up a lot when we enter the workplace, often consenting to drug tests or email screening. But when it comes to actually asking us to wear a device eight hours a day, employers will have to deliver big benefits to justify the invasion.

Will workers stand for such treatment? Maybe—if, in return, it means they don’t have to sit.

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