There has been a buzz for quite some time about wearable technologies. From watches to rings, glasses to contact lenses, to all sorts of chips and sensors built into clothes and accessories.
The market trends are showing not just that wearables are here to stay, but also that they are arriving at speed.
The speed at which fashionable technologies are becoming part of our life is unsettling. It used to take at least a decade for a new piece of technology to become part of our vocabulary, but wearables have halved that time.
The beauty of wearable technology is that it creates an intimacy in its use: it is always with us and we are the only ones to use it. As a consequence the data collected is very personal and accurate, which of course raises a lot of privacy concerns. While this could be a problem for some, this accuracy has allowed the quantified-self movement (Gary Wolf "QS & The Macroscope") to flourish with more and more people interested to the point of obsession in collecting data on all the aspects of their life: from performance, to food intake, to sleep quality, to mood state and much more. The information is then used by the self-tracker to create awareness and adjust behaviours to improve the lifestyle.
What if we could use this same knowledge to improve the benefits a company can offer to their employees?
Wearable technology opens a whole new world for companies to make employee benefits more personal and to create experiences that are truly engaging. The most obvious area where wearables can make an impact is health and wellbeing. It won’t be long until the quantified-self will disrupt the insurance and the benefit industry. After we overcome the barrier of sharing our most personal data with insurers and employers– which some have already done by making their lifestyle completely public domain (for example http://aprilzero.com/) - we will see more and more products accurately tailored to the individual’s interests and lifestyle, rather than by demographics.
Companies are always thriving for a fitter, healthier workforce. A lifestyle that decreases stress levels and improves fitness could be linked to tangible benefits that can be accrued each month.
Just imagine going to the gym or for a run and having our employer rewarding us with some form of bonus, either monetary or not – perhaps extra holiday time.
Additionally, as wearables are with us at all times, they know where we are and pretty much what we are doing at any given time. They could be set to remind us to take the stairs instead of the elevator to reach our exercise goal, to eat a healthy meal instead of the junk food we were planning to have. Just by helping us be more aware of the choices we make each day, they could have an impact on our health, lifestyle and life.
It could be argued that there are already enough applications out there that allow us to monitor our lifestyle and fitness, such as Strava, MyFitnessPal, Nike+ and others. However, we might not be there yet, as all these apps need us to have our smartphones on hand, which might not always be practical, at the gym, or on a run or when we’re playing tennis. We also have to make a conscious effort to start and finish recording an activity to use them, and how many of us are that disciplined all the time? Finally, these apps tend to lack the ability to collect data from incidental fitness activities, like walking to and from the tube station or taking the stairs.
Beyond the numerous applications to health and wellbeing, there are also wide possibilities within tailored consumer experiences that are supported by our benefits. Just imagine a watch that reminds us at lunch time that we are near a restaurant that is part of the “Taste card” program, which our company has spent quite a bit of money on, but we never seem to use?
Since Tim Cook’s Apple Watch announcement on September 9th, it has been very exciting to see app designers around the world come up with new ideas. We decided to reimagine how our global benefits management software Darwin could look like on an Apple Watch.
Here are a few of our ideas:
These are just a few of the possible applications that we can see coming for wearable technologies in the benefits world. I am sure that we can and will come up with many more in the future. Stay tuned!