How the Internet of Things Will Impact HR

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May 6, 2016

Editor’s Note: It’s an annual tradition for TLNT to count down the most popular posts of the previous 12 months. We’re reposting each of the top 25 articles between now and January 2nd. This is No. 14 of 2016. You can find the complete list here

Who would have thought that an Internet of things would be so important for the human resources department? And yet here we are. 10 billion devices give us 24/7 access to anybody and anything. Changing the way we live and work while being only in first gear. Analysts expect between 50 and 200 billion connected devices in 2020.

While humans are still in the center of all these machines, it’s time for HR to up the ante and prepare the workforce for these new waves of technology.

What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?

IoT is one global (currently only limited to our planet) digital nervous system of devices and sensors that can connect devices with each other and with people. Here are a couple of examples. And a brilliant infographic.

Why is IoT important for HR?

I see two major IoT challenges for any organization where HR is the success factor.

The first challenge is outside in: Absorbing IoT big data

HR should have a sound strategy for maximum agility when absorbing the impact of IoT. This primarily refers to having the right workforce composition. The optimal balance in modern core skills, like agility, collaboration, cognitive flexibility, creativity and organizational development. It all comes down to educating and preparing the organization to absorb the big data that comes from IoT.

If generating actionable workforce analytics data is already a stretch, then you will have a blast with IoT data!

IoT will generate an unprecedented amount of data associated with people and how they perform their jobs on a daily basis. This data is worth gold for decision makers to optimize the strategy of the company.

The second challenge is inside out: Connecting brainpower to generate your own IoT contribution

Generating letters and paying salary is a commodity in HR. The true challenge for HR is to connect the brainpower of the workforce and create your own apps to connect with the IoT. How? By generating ideas on how sensors and devices can improve your existing products and services. The power to innovate is the power to differentiate and stay ahead of the curve.

Summary of IoT use cases

Here are four categories of IoT devices that are either already omnipresent or coming your way quickly. In all cases, something a CHRO should think about.

1. Mobile phones and tablets

Phones and the tablets are central hubs in IoT. They give us easy access to each other and to our favorite things. We can review any product and service, and share our thoughts via social media. So far business as usual for many of us as consumers.

But, do you have that same consumer experience as an employee? Do you have access to your own data and key analytics via your phone? Can you share any idea with colleagues on the spot through corporate social collaboration?

If the answer is no, then you have a long way to go in absorbing IoT. Accessing your own personal data is child’s play compared to other applications such as:

  • Continuous performance management, for which you’ll need a solid mobile/digital culture on order to establish a true beneficial connection between an employee and his or her team.
  • Allowing employees to select a flex workspace with their mobile phone to truly adopt flex working.
  • Optimizing the effectiveness (and thus engagement) of an employee’s workday, like this example from Volkswagen and Shell.

Ask yourself this question: How many apps has the HR department published in your company’s app store? That number tells a lot about your level of IoT engagement, and thus about your company’s ability to kick ass in the marketplace.

2. Health and fitness trackers

Vitality remains a key topic for human resources. Healthy people perform better and are more engaged. It is as simple as that. Anything a company can do to contribute to the workforce health is good for business.

Watches, heart rhythm trackers and similar devices can help. Therefore, many organizations give employees a fitness tracker. Not to track where they are, but to track how they are. The minimum gain is insight in one’s fitness. If gathered collectively it becomes a great source of information for the company.

Here is an interesting story from Oral Roberts University which made FitBits mandatory. The  philosophy is that personal growth and development is built upon both physical and emotional activities. Therefore, students are required to take 10,000 steps a day towards technological enhanced education.

3. Attendance and location trackers

Trackers can be used to track individual’s whereabouts and movements. I deliberately step over the privacy discussion, which is very culture related and takes place on a case-by-case basis. I do want to outline a couple of the benefits, which might ultimately outweigh our privacy concerns, once we grow into a global IoT paradigm.

  • Trackers can monitor alertness on the job. Take for example truck drivers who can be scanned for fatigue while driving and be alerted to prevent accidents.
  • Let’s take it a step further. If you can track one employee, you can track a crowd. Think about the benefits of seeing movements of crowds in large events. We already see this happening in sport. It’s only a matter of time before companies use this technology to optimize routes. For example in healthcare to optimize routes from healthcare personnel to patient.
  • Add RFID chips to it and you can automate much more. Those boring and outdated clocking systems to capture time and attendance will become obsolete.
  • It will not stop there. Putting more sensors in clothes might sound a bit far-fetched today, but is it really so strange? Many people are happy to dress themselves in sensors.
  • Even the clothes themselves can become an interactive surface. Forget Google glasses. How about Google pants?

4. Virtual and augmented reality

Virtual reality and augmented reality will catapult us not one, but a thousand steps further in digitalization. 2016 is the year when both VR and AR are released upon the general population.

Think about the use case for recruitment. Employers are in a position to improve the assessment of candidates enormously by placing them in virtual situations to test their behavior. And candidates can have interviews from home and enjoy a more immersive experience of their future job.

What about the use case for learning? Look at this short movie from the HoloLens and there is no need for me to put in words how this will impact learning management in the years to come.

If you think Skype already revolutionized the way we meet, then virtual/augmented reality will turn your workplace upside down. Literally. Holoportation for workplace meetings will make videoconferencing so last century. Now is the time for HR to work closer with IT and facilities to optimize the way you work.


Companies are facing another wave of technology that will have a big impact on the way we work. The human resources department is in a unique position to prepare the workforce for this new way of working and to utilize the big data generated by IoT.

Don’t look at IoT like it’s magic. It’s science that you can use to improve the way you work. And you will generate a competitive edge while doing it.