by Cheryl Lock

Imagine you had access to the number of hours your employees sleep at night — and when they go to sleep, their food habits and how often they work out.

Now what if you could take that information and optimize your employees’ performances for the workplace based on it? If you did that, you’d be on the cutting edge of wearable technology. But as it turns out, using this type of technology to increase employee productivity is already catching on — and for good reason.

What is Wearable Technology?

Wearable technology is pretty self-explanatory: it consists of mini computers embedded in anything from watches to glasses to shoes and clothes, usually with internet connectivity. While popular everyday wearable technologies include items like the FitBit and Google Glass, The Human Cloud at Work — an experimental design research collaboration between Rackspace and the Institute of Management Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London — assessed the impact of a few other types of wearable technologies.

The study — which provided some pretty stunning results — included GENEActiv (a high-velocity accelerometer wristband that helps you measure physical behavior), NeuroSky Mindwave (which monitors brain activity), and LUMOback (a posture and activity coach guide). According to the study report:

“In a really short space of time, wearable technology has moved from the realm of science fiction to commonplace. Something that just a few months ago was seen as limited largely to the entertainment and health and fitness markets, has captured the imagination of large and small businesses alike seeing the potential to make substantial savings through such means as increased productivity, enhanced employee well-being and reduced work-related injuries.”

What exactly does a workplace optimized to use smart, wearable technology to increase worker productivity and happiness look like? Is it really as invasive as you might think?

How Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses Are Using It

Certain businesses lend themselves to the use of wearable fitness technology more readily than others. A healthcare professional, for example, might suggest a patient on an exercise routine use the Shine by Misfit tracker to measure his activity and sleep patterns for optimum physical benefits.

Other scenarios are a bit more obscure, even as they remain effective and innovative. For example, one employer was able to use wearables to determine when a certain employee went to sleep, what her social life was like, and her overall health and fitness levels, including how often she went to the gym and how long she was sedentary at work. Tracking such information can then help employers determine the times of day that employees are most productive, as well as the types of activities most likely to keep their workers healthy.

The question still remains — is all this technology a good thing?

The Outcome

According to The Human Cloud research, productivity for people using wearable technology increased 8.5 percent, while their job satisfaction levels went up 3.5 percent — but big questions still remain. Privacy, for one, is a major issue (whether or not employees will feel comfortable having their employers know all that information about their sleeping, eating and social habits is a big question mark).

In the U.K., where the Institute of Management Studies is located, the financial sector proved to be especially reluctant to adopt such technologies, mainly citing a lack of IT infrastructure to support implementation as the main reason against it. “Everyone is looking for an edge against the competition, and technology has always been seen as leading the way,” says retail consultant Bob Phibbs. “I think it will be a struggle to have employees willingly allow their employers to know their sleep cycle and other private information.”

So: creepy over-share or meaningful innovation? Time will tell whether this technology really takes off in terms of use in the office environment, but for now it’s off to a good start … even if it just provides your employees with a chair for the back support they really need.