Every other article written today about workplace technology seems to focus on the negative impact it’s expected to have on jobs. Artificial intelligence is an especially powerful bogeyman right now, portrayed as a menacing and calculating disruptive force that’s poised to wipe corporations clean of messy, meaningless human beings. Eh. That might happen. But probably not.
Can we talk a little bit about the positive effects? Much less attention is being paid to technologies that will significantly benefit the workforce, especially technologies that provide direct aid to workers. Wearable products are being used today that make us smarter and stronger, improve our sight and hearing, and help keep us safer in dangerous environments. They are tools that make us more productive and more suited to handle a wider range of tasks. That means we’re creating a workforce that’s more valuable, more flexible and less likely to be displaced.
Wearables are taking many different forms. Workers in manufacturing and environments where heavy lifting is required are being outfitted with exoskeletons that help them handle heavy objects for longer periods of time with less fatigue. Wireless headphones paired with live translation enable airline service representatives to understand and interact with nearly anyone in their native language in real time.
Augmented reality is another area that is rapidly advancing and dramatically changing the way workers accomplish complex tasks. Wearables deliver benefits right now and have the potential to create new innovations and efficiencies in many industries.
We’ve come a long way in just a few short years since Google Glass debuted. Now, smart glasses have embedded wireless technology, high-definition stereoscopic displays, voice- and gesture-activated controls, cameras and sensors. Devices infused with augmented reality are making it possible for workers to access and see critical information as they perform tasks and repairs — completely hands-free.
That kind of force multiplier can also provide important benefits for companies and workers. Consider, for example, a company constrained by its ability to find skilled workers to fill spots being vacated by longtime employees. New workers with basic skills and equipped with AR wearables can be coached in real time by remote experts who might otherwise have retired. Freed from the need to travel or perform difficult tasks, senior workers with expertise can continue to contribute value to the company and stay active under conditions that better suit their circumstances and their desires.
Of course, it’s not as if you can unbox a set of goggles, throw them on and go to work. Companies will need to make plans and address some issues along the way to get the most from this technology. Tech experts will need to work with the business, and especially operations leaders, to figure out the best way to integrate innovative products into the daily workflow.
Workers will probably have questions, too, about how an employer intends to use wearables. For example, would an employer use wearables only to help workers perform a task, or are there circumstances where devices might be used to monitor or grade their performance? Employees also have legitimate concerns about data collection, usage and privacy issues that should be addressed from the beginning.
Still, it’s clear that wearables and augmenting technologies have a lot to offer both employees and employers. Far from eliminating jobs, these tools are helping workers perform their current roles more productively. They’re creating opportunities for eager new workers who need guidance. And, they’re extending the careers of experienced workers who welcome the chance to remain active contributors.
Better services for customers. Benefits for companies. New opportunities for workers. That doesn’t sound so scary or ominous, does it?