A growing number of CEOs and Board Directors of leading corporations are digesting the implications of the uncomfortable operational reality that has settled in most national settings. On one hand their companies are heavily invested in expensive prime urban office spaces which project the previous cultural expressions of the essential performance values of their most productive executives. On the other, they face the realities of a fundamentally hybrid operating model that has already reshaped notions of workspace and optimal practice, fragmenting important professional norms in the process.
There is an ethical dilemma that sits at the heart of this issue. It is one that has challenged elite sports for many years. What are the acceptable limits of performance focus when individual wellbeing is factored in? To date programmes to support employee wellbeing have been mostly generic and office-centred. Gyms, sleep pods, meditation classes and much more have been heavily invested in.
Academic research has identified powerful evidence of higher shareholder returns for companies embracing this approach - London Business School’s Alex Edmans found that the companies that made Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list generated 2.3 percent to3.8 percent higher stock returns per year than their peers over a greater than 25-year horizon.
Covid threatens to undermine many of the established platforms that support this profile, primarily as a result of geographical dispersal, centralised physical resources and, most significantly, inadequate data concerning the performance environment of a workforce working from home.
The central issue for senior executives and Board members who seek to maintain their ESG focus in the new circumstances is that it is now reasonable to make decisions based on the assumption that pre-Covid office-based working may never return for a large percentage of employees. What immediate new responsibilities must be addressed?
Firstly, inertial evolutionary adaptation is unlikely to succeed. The scale of the cultural and organisational shock is just too great, analogous to the arrival of the railroads to the US, Mr Crapper’s 19th-century urban invention of the water closet and the introduction of gunpowder to medieval Europe. In each of these cases, societies fundamentally reallocated resources and restructured social practices - and quickly. Companies need to act now, and, given the unknowns, bravely.
Secondly existing HR infrastructure for analysing key patterns within human capital is very centralised and built around control and direction. The new circumstances atomise the focus to each individual's particular profile and personal circumstances. The ties of a shared office and its many cultural common denominators have been greatly loosened.The only way to regroup is to understand each individual much more deeply across parameters of measurement that are relevant to the new world, as opposed to past practice.
Thirdly, there is significant evidence emerging regarding the unsatisfactory relationship between traditional corporate performance requirements and personal wellbeing that are being experienced by workers. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently told The Wall Street Journal CEO Council “When you are working from home it sometimes feels like you are sleeping at work’’. For reasons of productivity, he and his Board need to find a solution. For reasons of ESG, it can be argued that he would be willfully blind not to commit resources to try to address this problem immediately.
The good news is that proven resources are available. Digital self-reporting has become a core tool utilised by professional athletes as they self-manage towards performance goals 365 days a year. The 3Q Total Performance Platform delivers comprehensive and easy-to-use self-reporting across emotional, intellectual and physiological dimensions - EQ, IQ & PQ. Executives can monitor themselves more attentively, benchmark against peers and communicate their circumstances much more clearly to their managers. This is private, engaging and empowering - ideal for the home worker. The aggregated data clearly offers corporations deep, authentic and timely insights across their workforce.
Separately, and for today’s immediate challenges, perhaps even more powerful, is a physiological measurement of the type delivered by PQ(lboro). Stress and Recovery is measured via research-grade Heart Rate Variability over 7 days for 24 hours a day. The results of recent programmes have captured the scale of the ESG issue embedded in the home working paradigm. To date, PQ has recorded homeworking executives experiencing an average of more than 12 hours of daily Stress, ‘balanced’’ by only 50 minutes of Daytime Recovery. Weekends included...There is also strong evidence of an endemic burden of Accumulated Stress carried over from previous days, which builds towards fatigue, emotional distress and cognitive impairment- issues that are considerably more specific than ‘sleeping at work’.
If the changes we all face signal a fundamental break with the past, then employers confront powerful cross-currents between performance and wellbeing. Investing in new approaches that address both concurrently makes commercial sense, whilst keeping pace with ESG obligations.