The benefits of bringing green space into the working day
Regular breaks outside the office can bring out the best in us
‘Married to the office’ is a commonly used phrase and one which rings true for many employees. Although in theory technology creates much more opportunity for flexible working, it seems to have fostered a 24/7 working culture.
I’m a keen advocate of bringing green space into a working day – or any day for that matter and it’s become an integral part of my coaching and team building work with individuals and organisations. A dose of Vitamin ‘N’ (‘N’ for nature, as described by American Writer, Richard Louv), is not only ‘vital for our physical and mental health in our technology-dependent age’ but also a great catalyst for creative thinking, problem solving and stress reduction.
Today very few jobs involve moving around much anymore (let’s face when we’re not commuting, we’re predominantly tied to our desks) let alone being in or moving around in natural green spaces.
What’s more, many work cultures don’t encourage taking breaks regularly despite official health recommendations suggesting that regular 5-10 minute breaks away from the screen sustain productivity and resourcefulness.
The benefits of being outdoors
The psychological, emotional and physiological benefits of nature on our wellbeing have long been reported. Back in 2008, the University of Michigan showed that going outside, even in the cold, improved memory and attention and that in workplaces designed with nature in mind, employees were more productive and took less sick time.
The body of evidence in support of getting outside more has grown thick and fast since then, confirming what we have always known - consciously or unconsciously. Nature is, after all, where we come from, our place of origin and the wealth of beneficial impacts nature has on our wellbeing goes back to the ‘biophilia hypothesis’, advocated by the biologist E.O. Wilson, that humans have a hard-wired disposition to connect with the natural world.
What exactly happens when we are outdoors?
Being outdoors frees us from day-to-day constraints, pressures and habitual ways of thinking and behaving. Just taking time out in a natural setting invokes a calming impact on our way of thinking and looking at things, we become more relaxed, open minded and less guarded.
What’s more, when we walk our brain waves slow down because the mind starts to focus on our physical movement. This creates space in our head for clearer thinking and our natural creativity.
“Taking a long walk was Steve Job’s preferred way to have a serious conversation”, observed Walter Isaacson in his biography of Apple’s co-founder.
Nature is everywhere
Nature is everywhere even in the most dense urban settings. London is one of the biggest cities but also one of the greenest. It offers many small green squares, back gardens, and big parks. Even a walk round the block takes us beyond the confines of the office environment; the sky, the trees, the fresh air and change in scenery are there for us to tap into, to reset our mood and feel grounded.
Tips for getting out of the office
- Pop out for 5-10 minutes mid-morning and mid-afternoon to take in some fresh air, to look at the sky, to move your body, to clear your mind, to regain perspective
- Go for a walk at lunch time around the block or in the local park ; just half an hour outside can make all the difference to our mindset, our sense of self and others, as well as our perspective on work and life in general.
- Take your 1:1 meetings outdoors while walking
Recent Stanford research shows that a person's creative output increases by an average of 60 percent when walking.
- Consider holding your team meetings outside the office once a month – including a nearby park if the weather is fine. Notice the change in your colleagues as they are freed from the constraints of the office environment.
- Hold your next team building away day outdoors in natural green space – see below.
- Try this simple ‘4-3-2-1 exercise’ to help you unwind, relax and rejuvenate in just 10 minutes in a park or green space.
Team building workshops outdoors
Team building workshops work really well outdoors, tapping into the energy of the outdoors to enhance team creativity, motivation and connection.
I usually take teams to green spaces like Regent’s Park, Hampstead Heath or Victoria Park where there are also indoor facilities so that a day out of the work environment – should it rain – can be held partly indoors, partly outdoors.
When working with teams around increasing team spirit, connection, collaboration, clarifying vision, mission and purpose or other areas the team wants to explore, I usually use the method of the Natural Learning Cycle, based on Joseph Campbell’s idea of a natural rhythm that he named ‘Flow Learning’. The cycle taps into the energy of the eight cardinal directions: NE intuition, E inspiration, SE activity, S focus, SW take a break, W gather and share, NW reflect, N integrate.
It works regardless of the ages in a group, the mood or physical setting as its particular sequence is in harmony with certain subtle aspects of human nature.
For a team to spend quality time together outside their normal physical and emotional work context and routine helps the team to clarify their identity and sense of direction.
*References of research articles into the benefits of nature on our physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing:
Feel better outside, feel better inside, Mind, 2013
Personal Well-being and Interactions with Nature, Dr Louise Reid and Professor Colin Hunter, February 2011
A walk a day keeps the doctor away, Professor Jules Pretty and Dr Jo Barton of the University of Essex, 2010
What is the best dose of nature and green exercise to improve mental health?
Pretty/Barton research report 2009/2010
Let’s get outside, Karen Liebenguth in Coaching at Work, April 2015 http://www.coaching-at-work.com/2015/04/11/lets-get-outside/
How walking can foster creativity, Josh Jones, in Creativity, Life, Literature, Philosophy, July 2015
Natural Instincts by Jini Reddy, 32 Psychology Magazine, April 2015
Standford Study finds that walking improves creativity, April 2014