"OK, Glass, make my workforce more productive."
This voice command, while not quite yet an option for the Google Glass interface, could become a common goal among HR directors and benefit plan sponsors who plan to incorporate the digitized eyewear product into their own vision benefit plans or even use it as a high-tech, enhanced productivity tool in the workplace. And more than just good news to tech fans who are clamoring to use the hands-free system as soon as they can, leaders in the vision care space believe that the landmark decision by Google to partner with VSP Global and provide the digital eyewear at a subsidized price for employees may also bolster voluntary plan take-up and help to brand the new wave of wearable technology as a norm.
But the arrival of Google Glass into the workplace and offices is being met with some hesitation from HR decision makers. There also are concerns that the eye strain that many workers already endure though marathon sessions of staring at their computer or smartphone screens might only be made worse by 24/7 use of the Google Glass headset.
Even Google itself is aware that the revolutionary system, which allows users to record video, exchange messages or get directions, all in a futuristic, hands-free fashion, presents a variety of unresolved questions on proper use. Google portends in its own Google Glass etiquette page that users should not be creepy or rude (aka, a Gl@#$hole).
"Privacy issues have already been raised with regards to Glass," says Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits at the Society for Human Resource Management. "I think that's going to be a challenge for human resource departments, [especially] as it relates to wearables like Glass that can record conversations and video. We'll see how well Glass integrates into the workplace; I just don't think there's enough information out there right now," he says.
At this point, Google Glass's incorporation into the working world mostly remains conjecture, as the private employers EBN spoke to are all far from implementing Google Glass as part of their benefits package, and tech-focused early adopters who independently purchase the system for their own use at work are largely left on their own. But recent studies have suggested that these and other smart glasses will initially become an integral tool for employees such as insurance technicians and engineers, maintenance, health care and manufacturing personnel, the first fields where Google Glass might add some immediate productivity advantages.
"In the next three to five years, the industry that is likely to experience the greatest benefit from smart glasses is field service, potentially increasing profits by $1 billion annually," said Angela McIntyre, research director at information technology research firm Gartner. The firm notes that Google Glass's hands-free nature and the myriad creative and time-saving applications to use with the system will bolster usage.
Employers not in these fields, or the private sector for that matter, may look at Google Glass and see a web of unknowns. At the Palm Beach County Government, a main hub for 38 Florida incorporated municipalities, providing Google Glass for its 6,000 employees is still a far-off possibility, though the employer has started to consider some of its implications.
"We haven't really seen much of this technology in the workplace as yet, so it isn't an issue that's on our immediate radar," says Nancy Bolton, director of risk management at the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners.
Bolton notes the public employer would likely have to tweak its policies on protected health information measures to ensure confidential images or client/attorney meetings are not recorded.
That said, she believes that having these or other wearables as part of the county's benefits package could serve as a great recruitment tool. "While all perks are good for attracting and retaining employees, high-tech perks, in particular, might help us to attract and retain the young energetic millennial set," she says.
And rather than privacy issues, Bolton says that productivity and actual job safety would ultimately be major considerations in allowing the systems in various county worksites.
"This technology is another attractive nuisance that has the ability to take one's mind off what we're paying them to do -- work," she contends.
From a legal standpoint, Eric B. Meyer, a partner in the labor and employment group of the law firm Dilworth Paxson LLP, says that employers cannot address Google Glass'?s inevitable inclusion into the business world with a one-size-fits-all approach. "?The big concern that I would have, and obviously it's on an employer-by-employer basis, is [its use in relation to] confidentiality purposes," Meyer explains. ?"If an employer has proprietary or confidential information that it wouldn'?t want exposed to the public then employees that use Google Glass need to be mindful of this.?"
In the case of use in a hospital or medical setting, Meyer says he would be concerned about accidental breaches of HIPAA regulations. And while employers could consider implementing a standalone Google Glass workplace policy, Meyer explains that amendments could be made to include smart glasses into already well-established HR guidelines. These include the big three: confidentiality, social media and computer and/or Internet use policies.
"I think a lot of it has to do with education, so first the employer can look at Google Glass and decide whether employee use could add value to the workplace," Meyer adds.
Google didn't immediately respond to a request for comment; however, on its website, it has posted responses to statements made about the device. It says Google Glass won't distract people from the real world because, unlike other computer systems, the eyewear "allows you to look up and engage with the world." The screen also shuts off by default. As for privacy and security, Google says "if someone wants to secretly record you, there are much, much better cameras out there than one you wear conspicuously on your face and that lights up every time you give a voice command, or press a button."
The first announcement of the Google Glass collaboration came in late January when both VSP Global and Google disclosed their partnership to offer the newest technological creation to the masses through subsidized prescription lenses and frames.
Google says it is working with VSP Vision Care, the largest not-for-profit benefits and services company in the U.S., to permit its members to receive reimbursements on Glass up to the frame allowance provided within their current vision benefit. The subsidized prices range from $225 for the frames and $150 for the shades, but the Google Glass digital interactive device itself still costs $1,500.
Initial steps in the collaboration point to VSP Global training its eye-care professionals on proper Google Glass fittings so that current users or future users can be fitted properly with the new piece of technology. Google Glass is only available through The Glass Explorer program, which allows the company to choose users. While only a few thousand currently have access to the wearable computer, Google said that it is "moving towards a wider consumer launch later in 2014."
"Our belief is that you have the 30,000 VSP doctors, and the 64 million VSP members behind something, or at least aware it, [this] will definitely help in the consumer adoption of [Google Glass]," says VSP Vision Care president Jim McGrann.
Going forward with the partnership, McGrann notes that VSP Global plans to train about 6,000 doctors on the proper Google Glass fittings by the end of the year.
"We want to focus on the eye health of our member population, so first and foremost we thought that was important, and we worked with Google to get our doctors trained and our members educated on what Glass does and doesn't mean, with respect with their overall eye health," McGrann says.
And skimping on eye health can hurt worker productivity, according to an annual survey conducted by Transitions Optical. The company's Employee Perceptions of Vision Benefits survey finds that 79% of employees record at least one visual disturbance at work and 53% say that they take at least one break to rest their eyes. And having a virtual screen nearly attached to their faces, via the Google Glass system, might leave workers even more prone to eye strain.
Smith Wyckoff, account manager of managed care/online retail at Transitions Optical, says that the inclusion of iPads and iPhones as well as other tablet and smartphone options have pushed many of us to be peering at these and other devices "at an arm's length from their face, for very long periods of time."
While cautioning that more technological interaction could possibly distract users -- who may walk into public fountains or oncoming traffic -- Wyckoff says that Google Glass will likely have to manage a "learning curve" for adoption in the workplace, despite VSP's backing.
Vincent Colonna, director of compensation for Broward Health, one of the 10 largest public health care systems in the nation, believes it's only a matter of time before workplace adoption of wearables such as Google Glass takes off, but "it might take a little bit of time for employers to sort of embrace it as part of their employee benefit plan."
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