Markets and Trends

Why Wearables at Work are Increasing

Explore the benefits organizations are experiencing with providing wearables and wearable devices to employees:
Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

Earlier this summer, my friend’s daughter began a new job, her first one right out of college. Amidst all the usual starting-a-new-job hubbub of picking health insurance and setting up her direct deposit, she was also faced with getting her hardware – laptop, tablet, and smartphone – selected and set up. It’s a task many of us are usually faced with, and don’t spend too much time thinking about. However, not long after starting her job, she called me at work with a question:

“Ramon, which wearable should I get?”

Truthfully, it’s a question I regularly hear as I cover wearables at IDC. We went through the pros and cons of fitness trackers versus smartwatches, the benefits of third-party applications versus an experience straight out of the box, and the merits of LTE connectivity. It’s a fun conversation too, and similar to the conversations that come up when someone asks, “Ramon, which smartphone should I get?” Once we wrapped up, she thanked me for my time and finished with, “Great! I’ll let IT know which one I want.”

You get a wearable! And you get a wearable! And you get a wearable!

Older readers will remember the excitement of finding a desktop computer waiting for you at your desk when starting a new job (and even older readers will remember sharing a computer – complete with punch cards – with a group of coworkers on the same floor as a blessing). A similar thing happened when companies equipped employees with their own laptops, and later, a company arming an employee with a mobile phone and eventually a smartphone– complete with service – was also a big deal. Tablets followed suit. Eventually, these became the norm as far as hardware goes for a new employee.

But a wearable?

It turns out, companies have warmed to the prospect of providing wearables to their employees. In a recent IDC survey, examining the distribution of wearable devices throughout the company, for the past three years, the percentage of respondents that picked ‘we are not deploying wearables’ has shrunk from 61% in 2016 down to zero in 2018. Zero! Meanwhile, the majority of respondents shifted stages during those years from ‘not deploying wearables’ in 2016 to ‘putting wearables through trial usage’ in 2017 to ‘have deployed wearables with select groups’ in 2018.

wearables at work

The trend is warranted. Companies have looked to wearables – primarily fitness trackers – to engage employees about their health. While there were immediate and obvious benefits from having a healthier employee, including lower absenteeism, higher productivity, and better morale through individual and group competitions, companies have had an eye to the long-term benefits, namely lower health care costs. In the same survey, we asked participants if they noticed a decrease in health insurance costs and the majority said that they saw their healthcare costs drop anywhere between eleven and twenty percent. A difference within that range can lead to thousands of dollars depending on the size of the company!

Additionally, some wearables – specifically smartwatches – can help drive productivity with the help of third-party applications. Employees can get glanceable and actionable information that they need instead of digging the information out on a smartphone, which is especially important for those workers who need to keep their hands free to complete a task. Similarly, employees can send back quick, prepared responses. In certain work situations, the smartwatch can act as an emergency panic button to get help and can be much faster than fishing out a phone, unlocking it, and launching the phone app to dial 911.

Next Steps

Depending on where you are with wearables at your workplace, consider the following:

  • For those companies that have not yet introduced wearables to their employees, do your research first. Plenty of case studies are available showing how companies have succeeded and/or struggled with introducing wearables, along with some of the unexpected benefits they encountered. This will also help crystallize the purpose and goals behind offering wearable devices at your own company and point the way to the next step.
  • Explore your device options. With purpose and goals in mind, your device type (i.e., fitness tracker vs. smartwatch) practically presents itself. While it may be tempting to move up the chain towards a smartwatch, note that not all features and functionalities may suit your needs, especially if the purpose is health and fitness oriented. But if you are looking for multi-functional use, also look at how you will manage and secure those devices. Your current provider may be in a position to help.
  • For those companies that have introduced wearables to their employees, now is an ideal time to review the devices you currently offer and see what new devices you can upgrade to. Many new fitness trackers mimic some of the capabilities as a smartwatch and are available at lower price points. Similarly, today’s smartwatches make those released as recently as two years look quaint, and the additional cost of cellular connectivity is relatively low.
  • Specific to those employees that use smartwatches, consider your software choices. In most cases, you won’t find off-the-shelf solutions available and it then becomes necessary to find a company who can meet your needs. This will add to the cost, but eventually this this will pay off with scalability and productivity.
  • There will be a number of employees who want to BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) their current smart watches. Treat these as you would other BYOD devices, subject to the same management and security measures.


My friend’s daughter decided to go with a fitness tracker. It’s the first time she has ever had one, and the novelty of tracking her steps, distance, calories, and sleep has kept her engaged. Perhaps, just as impressive, is the series of programs her company has in place to keep employees engaged, with individual- and team-based challenges. I’m curious to see how long she sticks with it, as our survey also indicated that churn-out is an ongoing issue. Still, given the overall trends of more companies offering wearables to their employees, the notion of wearables in the workplace may eventually become less of a novelty and more of a regularly distributed device.

Want to learn more about the growth of wearable computing? Talk to an IDC Analyst today.

Research Director, Mobile Devices and AR/VR