Using the IoT to Build Healthier Workplaces

By Special Guest
Cher Zevala, Special Correspondent
March 23, 2017

Workplace wellness has long been a priority for businesses. Not only is a healthy workplace a productive workplace, but providing employees with the tools they need to take charge of their own health can potentially save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in healthcare costs and lost time.

Traditional workplace wellness programs tend to focus on education, incentives to engage in health behaviors, and creating an environment that supports a healthy lifestyle. The rapid spread of the IoT, though is changing that approach, making it easier to not only track and incentivize wellness initiatives, but to introduce new programs and initiatives to improve results. The IoT is influencing everything from how and when we work to how we work out, so it only makes sense that it’s being incorporated into programs designed to improve employee health.

Solving the Engagement Problem
Think, for a moment, about your employer’s wellness program, if there is one. A cornerstone of the program is likely a health screening or evaluation, during which a nurse collects information about your weight, BMI, blood pressure, cholesterol, and other key measures, which is then used to determine your eligibility for certain incentives or the need for additional interventions. If you are like most people, chances are you go to the screening simply for the incentives, and rarely follow through with recommendations for longer than a few days or weeks.

Some companies have tried to increase engagement beyond the wellness screenings by using the company intranet or mobile solutions to send reminders and updates on wellness topics. For example, if your screening shows that you are overweight or have high blood pressure, you might receive a daily reminder to take your medication or take a 20-minute walk.

Even if your screening doesn’t show anything of concern, such a program might be focused on stress relief, relaxation, or reminding you to exercise or stretch throughout the day. Such reminders are a way to increase engagement with the program on an ongoing basis; delivering them via mobile even helps employees stay on track when they are out of the office while traveling or taking time off.  Reminders can also be delivered by wearable devices, which also provide valuable data.

Wearables and Wellness
The Internet of Things, in particular wearable devices, allows employers to take wellness initiatives even further. By equipping employees with wearable devices, data can be collected and integrated into an electronic health record or online platform that helps engage employees toward meeting goals while also tracking their progress toward incentives. Because a growing number of insurance carriers are offering incentives to employers that offer wellness programs that produce results among employees with chronic conditions, developing a means to collect and analyze data that can be used to produce personalized plans is quickly becoming a priority. Data from wearable devices can give insight into activity levels, medication compliance, certain vital signs, and more — allows wellness programs to develop the right interventions and make changes to aspects of the program that are underutilized.

Beyond Wearables
Wearable devices and workplace wellness programs aren’t the only areas in which the IoT is changing the workplace for the better. Thanks to the IoT, workplaces in general are becoming healthier, and giving employers greater flexibility that leads to less stress and higher productivity.

For instance:

  • Modern lighting, heating, and cooling are controlled by embedded sensor systems that automatically adjust according to the ambient light or temperature, or the motion in the room. Not only does this save the company money, but it creates a more pleasant working environment.
  • Employees have more flexible working options than ever before thanks to technology. But thanks to IoT wireless sensors, your smartphone can serve as a sort of “remote control” for your life, saving you time and frustration. We already see this in places like Starbucks, which allows you to place and pay for your order via app, and then pick up your drink in the store. In the future, we might see more advanced sensors that can more accurately predict the weather and its effect on commuting, giving employees more power over the amount of time they spend in the car — and the stress that can bring.

The IoT is proving to be a disruptor in every aspect of our lives — and work is no different. However, not only is it changing the way we do business, and even what businesses do, it’s making a profound difference in employee health and the role that employers play in employee wellness. 

Edited by Ken Briodagh

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