With the official (online) release of Apple Watch only one day away, the internet is rife with predictions about whether the smart watch will succeed or fail — and how it will affect our lives in the process. Will this device just be one more digital distraction, or will it finally help quell the urge to check our phones every five minutes?
As with other personal tech devices, Apple Watch will inevitably become an integral part of the workplace, making questions about its influence on productivity and communication key for HR professionals. KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo estimates that global pre-orders for Apple Watch have already exceeded 2.3 million units, and a new report from market intelligence firm Tracticta predicts that 75 million wearables will be deployed in the workplace by 2020 (with smart watches making up the majority).
How will this influx of smart technology change our experience at the office? We asked HR experts and tech entrepreneurs what the next big thing in wearables means for the future of work:
Downsizing Our Information Intake
The fact that we can access real-time information with a glance at the wrist doesn't necessarily mean we'll be exacerbating employee overwhelm. In fact, the size and ease of smart watches could be used to simplify the flow of information employees receive daily.
"We see a dramatic shift in business toward a new theme: simplification," says Josh Bersin, Principal and Founder of Bersin by Deloitte. "Our newest research shows that while employees may like to have new and more devices at work, ultimately our job in HR is to provide simple, compelling and engaging solutions that make work easier."
"Information will increasingly have to be distilled into New York Times-style 'one sentence stories' that align with both the device's design as well as the demands of the device wearers," says Steve Boese, co-chair of the HR Technology Conference and co-host of the HR Happy Hour podcast, "Entire communications strategies have to adapt. Long HR policy statements, job descriptions, promotions for your upcoming career open house and yes—and this one is going to be really tough for me—blog posts, might all need to find a way to adapt to the one-sentence, glanceable paradigm."
Finding Balance in an Ultra-connected World
We've said it before, we'll say it again: The boundary between work and life has all but disappeared. And a smart watch takes our always-on mentality to yet another level.
"Will getting updates on an important project on Saturday at 8 PM contribute to the team or make you more burnt out by the time Monday rolls around?" asks Stephen Dodd, founder of OfficeTime, an app that will be available on Apple Watch. Despite this risk, he believes always-on wearables could make some tasks easier: "For instance, tracking your time on the Apple Watch removes that one level of inertia enough that you are more likely to do it."
Alan Lepofsky, Principal Analyst at Constellation Research thinks the ubiquitous nature of Apple Watch may also help filter information for employees more precisely. "By leveraging things like location, motion, proximity (to people and objects) and even physical conditions, this information could be filtered down to very specific content," he says. But he also questions the value of real-time access: "While wearables have the potential to connect us to important data, will they further disconnect us from the people and situations around us?"
Enhancing Our Humanity—Or More of the Same?
With a device attached so seamlessly to our bodies, some experts believe that wearables will actually help us cross some of the social and emotional divides created by previous technologies.
"Contrary to what most might think, I believe that wearables actually make us more social," says Michael DeFranco, founder and CEO of Lua, an enterprise communication app. "Instead of mindless scrolling through notification on a smartphone, with wearable-based notifications, phones are pulled out with more discipline and purpose. Apple Watch will further reduce our dependence on the social 'shields' that our phones have become both personally and professionally."
Wearables like Apple Watch may also be a catalyst for wellness at work, according to Jeff Miller, learning and development manager here at Cornerstone OnDemand. "Through system connectivity, will we get to the place where our watches will monitor our stress and cancel/postpone meetings or schedule massages or doctor appointments for us? I don't think it is out of the realm," says Miller. "I think watches might be that big step towards building emotionality into inanimate objects."
But while most people agree wearables will change our day to day lives, both personally and professionally, not everyone sees Apple Watch as transformative from the technology we're already using.
"From what I've read, the Apple Watch offers the same functionality as taping your iPhone to your wrist!" says Bill Kutik, veteran HR expert and host of the Firing Line with Bill Kutik. "While I appreciate the watch may be more comfortable, I'll wait until it can do more."
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