In January 2017, Swedish startup hub Epicenter began implanting workers with microchips the size of grains of rice. The implanted chips are used to open doors, operate printers, or buy smoothies with a wave of the hand. The program is entirely voluntary and today over 150 of the company’s 2,000 workers have opted for the implanted chips.
"The biggest benefit I think is convenience," said Patrick Mesterton, co-founder and CEO of Epicenter. "It basically replaces a lot of things you have, whether it be other communication devices, credit cards or keys."
The Epicenter story is one of many that have emerged in the last three years as RFID technology has taken off.
In August 2017, The New York Times reported that 50 out of 80 of employees at Three Square Market, a technology company in Wisconsin, had volunteered to have a chip injected between their thumb and index finger.
Aaron McEwan, senior director and advisory leader at Gartner, told HRTechNews that ‘injectable’ or wearable technology is a “potential sleeper that will likely escalate in popularity over the next few years”.
However, there are some hurdles to overcome. As with most new technologies, the trend raises security and privacy issues and McEwan said that a trust is a key issue that must be addressed.
“Employees want to know where the data will end up and what it will be used for,” he said. “Despite the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica debacle, I believe consumers are still willing to provide their personal data if they trust the holder of that data and they believe that data will be used in their best interest and not for any other nefarious activity. The same principle applies to employees and their data.”
McEwan said one key factor driving the increase of this technology in the workplace is the current HR focus on creating highly personalized employee experiences.
“My firm belief is we'll be happy to trade our data for greater flexibility and a more frictionless or effortless employee experience. The more we can remove the annoyances of multiple passwords and the need to log into different systems and all these approval steps, the higher the uptake of wearable tech will be.”
Related to this is selling to employees the ‘what’s in it for me?’ factor. A global PwC Workforce of the Future survey of 10,000 workers found that 70% would consider treatments to enhance their brains or bodies, all in the pursuit of greater work performance. The catch was that there had to be some clear benefit to themselves and not just to their employer.
McEwan said consumers are willing to trade their data for a better experience, and pointed to frequent flyer programs as the ultimate example of this trade-off. “Consumers say ‘you can have my data as long as I get the seat I like, or I get an upgrade when it’s appropriate, or I get served in the manner in which I like to be served’. You can imagine a future where HR is as obsessed with the employee experience as airlines are with their frequent flyer points.”
In the workplace, McEwan said employees are particularly keen to share data if it results in better health and safety outcomes.
“The technology can be used to track not just biometrics but information about how you're responding to the workplace. We’re seeing it already in high risk environments – an example is caps that monitor micro sleeps for equipment drivers in mines. There are also interesting examples of some tech companies monitoring the mental state and stress levels of their coders to ensure they are operating in the zone, so to speak.”
As workplaces become more focused on high level cognitive activities instead of lower level transactional activities, McEwan said the need to monitor how and when people are best positioned to deliver that cognitive output will become critically important.
“Again, wearables might be the answer,” he said. “If organizations are trustworthy and use the data for the right reasons then employees will increasingly be open to sharing that data. However, it'll be on the basis of employees getting a better experience at work.”