Wellness and Technology: Awareness versus Action

In an era where workforce wellbeing is supposedly high on organisational agendas, when asked in which areas tech can most benefit HR, wellbeing can often be overlooked. MD of Cordless Group, Nigel Miller considers the role that technology can play in corporate wellness and how we can look to close the gap between awareness and action.

What can tech do to support wellness?

Technology is changing the management of health in the modern world, encouraging us all to take more control in the management of our wellbeing. Most smart devices now track our daily routines, activity levels and record data on our mental wellbeing without us even knowing. I read the other day that our smartphones know more about our mental wellness than our partners!

The ability to harness and act on such real-time data can allow employers to provide a vast array of wellness support to people, from the emotional through the physical. Tech goes beyond just personal wearables and smartphone apps. From attendance management through to fitness facilities, occupational health systems, coaching and health risk assessment tools, technology can be the key to implementing preventative, supportive and rehabilitative wellness programmes by making it easier to engage and participate.

Underpinning all of this is a smart building infrastructure, to create an attractive place to work with reduced operating costs and an improved experience for occupants. In the background, the smart building makes us comfortable and safe and therefore more productive, whilst in the foreground it gives us access to services and facilities to help us be more efficient.

The healthy workplace can be measured with the help of data analytics from IoT Sensors. Sensors monitor the quality of air and light and smart tech will help manage the systems, communicating with the Building Management System to increase fresh air, adjust temperature, lighting and blinds or report faults. Facilities such as coffee and toilets can then be serviced based on the current use rather than a fixed time.

An appealing workplace delivers building/user interaction, combining the personal and professional experience.  Systems including facial recognition and voice assistance can provide secure access, lift call and wayfinding. Apps keep users engaged, allowing the booking of services, colleague arrival notifications, alerts, wayfinding or helpdesk services. The users benefit from facilities such as smart lockers, bike racks and car parking and potentially app driven discounts at local shops and restaurants.

The self-learning building remembers user preferences and makes predictions. For example, if you are booking a meeting area, the system will remember your location and setting preferences, such as the lighting, heating, beverage preferences and what presentation/AV facilities you may need.

The gap between vision and reality

At the early stages of an already urgent workplace fitout project, prioritisation of engagement of HR personnel who may be able to quantify wellbeing in terms of heath and company productivity is often missing, resulting in this area regularly being overlooked in the bigger scheme of things.

Simple wellbeing technology such as apps and personal monitors can easily be added later, although are often considered to be personal items and services. The more far-reaching and costly technology changes that would impact wellbeing – to provide optimised temperature, humidity and especially fresh air, circadian lighting and sound masking are all relatively expensive and need to be planned into the building design and costs from an early stage, something that is often overlooked as designs and budgets take shape.

This is compounded as Technology Consultants – those often introducing these considerations, are often engaged on projects at a later stage when it is too late for these facilities and ideas to be considered and budgeted within the design.

Tackling the technology wellness readiness challenge

The wellness benefit to the company is not easy to quantify and if this does not produce a realistic cost-benefit, will often be overlooked or removed from a scheme. This does not mean there is a lack of readiness, or enthusiasm, just a lack of understanding.

Wellness benefits are often a small part of the wider ‘Smart’ technology initiative which primarily addresses improving operational efficiency, reducing utility costs and better managing space and resources. The far bigger uplift for many organisations would be improved productivity driven by a healthy, alert, present and engaged workforce, however the difficulties on evidencing this drive this aspect down the priority list.

Discussions are also rife around the ethical dimension of gathering employee data, making many companies unsure of the dos and don’ts of wellness technologies. GDPR and other aspects of privacy and personal data capture and storage also have an added complexity to the Wellbeing Technology agenda further driving some organisations to give this low priority.

What’s in it for me?

As many an expert will tell you, people need to be motivated to act and behaviour change needs the right supporting environment. With all technologies and the wellness strategies that they support, the power of change management should not be underestimated.

Find out what drives your workforce. What type of wellness support do your people want and how do they want to access this? How much are individuals prepared to put in, in relation to what they will get out of using a system, device or app? Be careful also not to encourage overuse of technology, to avoid burnout.

Consider a comms plan with ongoing incentives and reward of personal wellness goals and achievements.

Combining tech with well-curated HR policies will provide people with a physically safe, comfortable and well-provisioned environment in which they can remain fit enough to perform well and grow. Being supported to achieve physical and mental wellbeing will give employees a greater sense of purpose, satisfaction and drive to succeed.

There is enough tech out there to make anything possible. It is just important to make sure that your organisation has the right level of smart tech maturity that suits your business culture. And if that doesn’t add profit to your bottom line, then you’re employing the wrong people!

To talk to Cordless about how the smart building can support wellness, say hello@cordless.co.uk

Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash