High performance and high support?

Chris Penn, founder of Steel BMB, prepares for the workplace of the future

With rapidly changing working styles and office set ups, it is more important than ever for businesses to look after the health and well-being of employees to yield better performance levels


Today’s business environment is full of expectations and pressures. Regardless of a leader’s chosen industry, the pressure of delivering consistently high performance with respect to tangible business metrics alongside the need to be a perfectly emotionally intelligent role model has never been more apparent.

At the same time, globalisation has meant increased business travel and changed also the dynamics of what constitutes a working day by technologically connecting companies across multiple time zones. Offices are no longer fixed physical structures with set hours. Workplaces to some are becoming ever-changeable locations and employees must constantly adapt to different working conditions, cultures and time zones. This has shifted the make up of work as we know it and made the physical connection between company support infrastructures and their employees much more complex.

With ever-changing expectations of the generations within the workplace, this means that companies are going to have to work harder than ever to support the well-being of their people in order to ensure that they attract the best talent, retain, nurture and care for them and ultimately receive the productivity levels that they need from their human systems to provide the high performance outputs that companies and their stakeholders expect.

According to the Global Wellness Institute, workplace wellness as a business is reputed to be worth $40.7bn worldwide, yet much of what has been implemented in businesses pays lip service to the real needs of humans as a proper support mechanism to their bodily systems and their ability to deliver high performance. This has to change. Companies are going to have to wake up to the needs of the human body and mind and most organisations are already some way behind the current curve, meaning that step changes are needed soon.

If we take today for example, let’s look at how well our own business is looking after its ‘best assets’. To provide a framework to understand the needs of mechanical systems – of which the body is arguably the most complex – let’s first look at what is in place for the physical equipment and machinery in a business. Most businesses have significant FF&E reserves in place to ensure that the quality of these tangible items are the best they can be in order to produce the required output. Preventative maintenance and service contracts are implemented to demand regular equipment checkups, ensuring that they are well maintained and in perfect working order. We carefully test and accredit the fuel that powers our machines. Smart diagnostic monitoring systems are in place to identify fuel consumption, service requirements or parts that need attention – we actively encourage feedback from our machinery through its lifespan so we can care for it. Sustainability is considered through the whole lifecycle and we put systems in place  to improve the length of that cycle. We understand the need for our systems to rest and recover and implement timer switches or Building Management Systems to ensure that the equipment is only being powered when necessary for the desired outputs. Moreover, we understand the need to employ specialists to look after these valuable systems.

Let’s then consider the application of these support mechanisms to the human side of our businesses:

  • Do we keep money aside to invest in our human capital and is it a fixed percentage of revenue exclusively ringfenced for investment into people?
  • What preventative maintenance systems do we employ for our people?
  • What regular monitoring systems and diagnostic tools do we have in place?
  • In what way do we support the fuel requirements of our human systems and how do we monitor and support the consumption thereof ?
  • How do we measure sustainability of our human systems and do we put measures in place to increase their lifecycle within our businesses?
  • How do we support the human machinery to encourage switching off their internal systems every day when they are not needed? Can they switch off ?
  • Are we investing in specialists to support our human capital and their systems?

I would suggest that while there may be some immediate surface level responses of “we have got this covered” to some of these points, or even “that doesn’t really affect us”, if you really challenge yourself to dig deep into some of these simple mechanisms, which is certainly not an exhaustive list of requirements (bear in mind we have taken this from how we look after machinery), you will unearth a need to dramatically reconsider the way in which your business looks after its human assets even as of today.

Some futurists have predicted the global economy will shift from being a ‘knowledge economy’ to a ‘human economy’* and I for one am excited about the prospect of being in a business world where human support is delivered at the same level or above that of human performance. The only sure way to deliver a success in the future will be to engrain wellness within the mission and culture of an organisation and work with genuine specialists to deliver supportive systems by default across the whole working environment. You only have to look at the global sports infrastructure to identify the depth of support mechanism required and under constant development to support high performance in their human systems.

I am very much looking forward to the physically, physiologically and cognitively supportive working environment of the future. Indeed it is one that I am in the process of building myself.