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Bio-metric Workplaces of the Future

I got a Fitbit back in 2014, then switched to Garmin in 2020. I can see what my heart rate when I proposed to my wife and during the vows at my wedding. I can see how my resting heart rate and sleep patterns were affected become a father.

What if we could use the data from our fitness trackers to improve our experience in the workplace?

Ample Data, limited availability

Wearable devices have nearly been mainstream for a decade, yet the use and availability of the data remain low. Most use them to set and track fitness goals, monitor their sleep patterns, track their food intake or as a motivator to stay active and healthy.

Currently most seems to be data is shared either between fitness apps or with health insurance providers. AIA Vitality is probably the best example of how a private health insurer uses a person's data to incentivise and reward health goals that ultimately reduce insurance costs and premiums.

Would employees be open to sharing data from their fitness trackers with their employer?

Sharing our weight will likely remain taboo, even in countries where health insurance is linked to your employer. However, what if our workplace or managers knew how well we slept, how stressed or how active we were that day?

Using health data for healthy workplaces

As a father of a newborn, my sleep schedule ranges from terrible to non-existent. But imagine if my boss or an AI assistant knew I had poor sleep and could make adjustments to my workload or calendar accordingly? I wouldn't share how much REM sleep I had, and you wouldn't want alerts when you forgot to wear your watch that night. But parameters of more than 2hrs but less than 6hrs that raises a flag might be the only alert a manager needs.

We could monitor resting heart rates, so when it's elevated we use it as a prompt to check in with them and see how they're feeling. Or use features - such as Garmin's body battery - that we could see when someone needed a break or was overwhelmed. This morning my 'body battery' was just 12 after a heavily disrupted night, if I wasn't on paternity leave and had to work today, I'd likely feel sluggish and less productive. Luckily working from home allows more flexibility to nap during lunch.

Other data include seeing if employees were getting less exercise than usual and use that as a prompt to have a walking meeting or install some treadmills inside if the weather was bad during winter. Exercise is often directly linked to well-being, so monitoring whether someone is getting less than the average might be an early warning or something that could add value to an IWBI WELL workplace certification.

Using your data against you

Whilst I'm usually optimistic about the future, it's worth considering the more nefarious uses that organisations may undertake if employees did consent?

Maybe your stress levels would be monitored during a new role or probation period, and if that stress continued then maybe they figure you're not cut out for the job and let you go.

What if they tracked your sleep and saw you were frequently getting little sleep and assumed you had an addiction (alcohol, drugs, gaming) or if they see a person with fewer steps or a high resting heart rate and figure they're a liability, prone to a higher volume of sick days or insurance costs.

There will always be 'bad actors', but if the appropriate controls and restrictions are placed then hopefully employees would be more willing to share. Many workplaces already have challenges such as 'step-tember' where their steps are tracked, recorded and shared, perhaps running a pilot under the banner of holistic well-being may make people feel more inclined to consent.

Consent, trust and value

Sharing such personal data would require the employee to consent, trust and see value in how data was used. But such insights could help us monitor workplace effectiveness in a way beyond simple occupancy sensors, and design environments and experiences that leave everyone feeling better in the long run.

Would you share your fitness data with your employer?


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