Back in 2018 CNN featured an article on how some of the world’s leading organisations were beginning to turn their attention to the subject of office atmosphere and the link between environment, wellbeing and productivity.
“We know there are tons of studies out there that talk about how people react and feel when they are among greenery and in nature,” said John Schoettler, senior manager of global property management at Amazon. “We thought about how we could bring that to today’s workplace. It’s a place for people to have the chance to meet to think and refresh and work and collaborate among nature with coworkers.”
Amazon took this concept to heart with the installation of ‘The Spheres’ which opened at its Seattle headquarters in 2018. The space is open to all employees and outside of Covid times and even runs tours for the general public. It provides staff with a direct link to nature, with river and waterfall features, more than 40,000 plants, paludariums and epiphytic trees. They even hold meetings in a tree house. What you won’t find here are desks, enclosed offices or conferences spaces.
Fast forward to March 2021 and many large organisations are now either sub-letting or letting go of leases and beginning to consider a post-Covid world of greater flexibility when it comes to employees working from home vs coming into the office. The likely scenario for many of them suggests downsizing office space and allowing staff a greater work/life balance by having less people in the office on any given day and perhaps the introduction of rotas – so who’s coming into the office and when. Is this the future, or it temporary? I have my ideas and you’ll likely have yours on this.
So where do we go from here when it comes to colleagues getting together? And what have we learned from this period of a year or so of Covid restrictions and the turning of work and home lives upside down? It’s certain that during the past year, the majority of the working population have become acutely aware of the value of nature and how good it feels to spend at least some of their day outdoors. Whether that’s a stroll before starting work to boost their energy, or at lunchtime to get a break from an either quiet home environment (those living alone), or a break from the kids (those living with families). Or whether it’s to meet a friend to chat through problems and challenges, or even a colleague. I know numerous people who have been holding ‘walkshops’– so that’s walking whilst mulling over work discussions in a way that just can’t be done via Zoom, or indeed, anywhere indoors.
If we didn’t know it before, we certainly do now – that being outdoors is good for us. And for those who operate from the thinking rather than the feeling brain, there’s plenty of science to back this up. Much of this research has come from Japan where Shinrin-yoku (translated as forest bathing) was developed out of government concerns over the health of its nation back in the 80’s. The research initially focussed on physician and immunologist, Dr Qing Li, who set off with twelve healthy middle-aged Tokyo businessmen on a three-day trip to the forests of Iiyama. The men walked two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon with a view to measuring what are called NK (natural killer) cells – cells which help us fight diseases such as cancer. The results were spectacularly conclusive, with eleven out of the twelve men showing fifty percent higher NK activity after the trip, compared with before. The research scientifically proved that forest bathing
- Boosts the immune system
- Increases energy
- Decreases anxiety, depression and anger
- Reduces stress and brings about a state of relaxation
- Lowers the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline
- Suppresses the sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ system
- Enhances the parasympathetic ‘rest and recover’ system
- Lowers blood pressure and increases heart-rate variability
Not satisfied with that, Li went on to measure the effect forest bathing had on the same men’s sleep patterns. He knew that a whopping 30-40 percent of working men in Japan couldn’t sleep due to stress. Fast forward another trip to the forest and their sleep rose from an average of 383 minutes a night to 452.
So, we’ve proven that being out in nature is good for us, but is there any evidence that working outdoors is practical (the UK isn’t known for its heatwaves) and conducive to productivity? Before Covid, we may have taken an hour to stroll out of the office with a colleague. Before Covid, we may have booked an office away-day or overnighter which involved an element of team building (archery or an escape room perhaps). The evening may have involved a group dinner in a formal setting, but with lots of booze to loosen everyone up and thank them for coming. Yet in the space of a year, this all feels like a thing of that past – a pre-Covid life and everything is changing because everything needs to. We’ve continued living, schooling and working with outdated models from the industrial revolution, but the transition to something new is undoubtedly painful. Some have called this period in time as the birth of a new consciousness.
And it couldn’t come quickly enough, because not only are we figuring out how to work together in the future, but we’re also searching for answers to the biggest problem of all, climate change. To quote Einstein
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
This era in history will be known for turning away from the control and leader-driven, top-down approach that we’ve followed for the past few centuries, towards a more community-driven outlook and way of operating. Therefore, it’s not difficult to imagine whole new models of working, too. Ones which will include innovative ways to gather together as teams within organisations. And just like the brilliant festival experiences that have emerged over the past few years, organisations can offer their staff new ways to get together in incredible natural surroundings. Each person will have their own space in their personal luxury bell tent with luxury bed linen, have dinner with colleagues under the stars (or in giant tipis when the weather is less forgiving), eat local food prepared onsite by local chefs, luxury toilets and showers with hot running water and experience activities that are not only fun, but actually enhance productivity, improve sleep, boost creativity and increase immunity.
It almost sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But that’s just what we’ll see emerging over this coming year. We’ve partnered with corporate getaway specialists Kymani to bring just that. They’ll take care of the incredible site and location, the giant tipis, the bell tents and all the expert catering. And we’ll provide the inspiring talks, walks and experiences including Conscious Connected Breathwork sessions, Forest Bathing experiences including Bioenergy Woodland walks, foraging, yoga, Pilates and talks in giant onsite tipis from experts in the field of anything from wild wellbeing to biomimicry to how to avoid burnout. At one of the sites there’s even the option of wild swimming in a local quarry for those brave enough.
For more details on anything you’ve read above, please get in touch with Justine firstname.lastname@example.org