We can access any type of technology in the workplace in an instant. Online we can hit social media sites, check email and post pictures with ease. Why don’t we make it just as easy to incorporate nature into our work spaces? There are many motives for organizations to encourage this including having healthier, more satisfied employees, as well as improving employee effectiveness on the job.
In the United States obesity is a major health issue that costs organizations millions in associated healthcare costs. Having green space near the workplace encourages exercise. Linked to this, The American Public Health Association (APHA) recently adopted a new policy statement focused on promoting healthy and active lifestyles by encouraging land use decisions that prioritize access to natural areas and green spaces for residents of all ages, abilities and income levels. APHA calls on public health, medical and other health professionals to raise awareness among patients and the public at-large about the health benefits of spending time in nature and of nature-based play and recreation and encourages healthcare professionals to form partnerships with relevant stakeholders, such as parks departments, school districts and nature centers. The policy statement also calls for promoting natural landscaping. All of this points to the need for have more access to nature in all settings, particularly near the workplace where people spend a large part of their day.
Enjoying the “soft fascination” of beautiful fall leaves. Photo by Mark Ellison
We need to make nature as easy to connect to at work as the internet.It really should not be that difficult, but we make it that way by designing cities without adequate green spaces, and work spaces that do not take into account the health of employees. Complicating the problem, we don’t adequately communicate how spending time in nature impacts health and well-being, and people who have lived in urban settings most of their life may have little understanding of the abundant health benefits nature offers.
One way to incorporate nature into our busy lives is to find ways to experience its benefits in or near our workplace. Here are seven tips for experiencing nature at work.
1) Have plants in your work space: Having plants in your work space can help lower blood pressure and perceived levels of stress, improve focus, help clean the air, in addition to providing aesthetically pleasing elements to the space. If you work at a computer most of the day, having plants in the field of vision of your screen is key.
2) Sounds of nature: Noise is a big stress inducing factor in many workplaces. Being able to introduce nature sounds that are more relaxing can help to improve focus and reduce stress. One Square Inch, a sanctuary for silence at Olympic National Park provides a wonderful recording of nature to block out noise.
Residents of Abingdon and Damascus, Virginia use The Virginia Creeper Trail for “green exercise”. The trail starts in downtown Abingdon and runs 34 miles through Damascus to Whitetop, Virginia. Photo by Mark Ellison
3) Have walking/hiking meetings or meet outside: Having walking or hiking meetings allows the opportunity to discuss important topics and get exercise simultaneously. Exercise also stimulates the brain and can aid in enhancing creativity if the exercise is in a green environment. Most of us sit entirely too much, and walking meetings can also help us get 10,000 steps a day, the minimum recommended to maintain health. If walking/hiking meetings are not an option, have tables and chairs outside the office for meetings.
4) Pictures/artwork of nature: Ideally work spaces will have windows that offer natural light and views of nature. If this is not the case, use photos or artwork of nature to introduce nature to the setting. It could be pictures of a favorite spot you go to escape, a breathtaking sunset, or beautiful flowers. Nature pictures/paintings have been found to be relaxing. In contrast abstract art, particularly in healthcare settings for patients, has been found to be upsetting.
5)Take a break or lunch outside: If there is a park or greenway nearby this is a great escape to help reduce stress, get some vitamin D and breathe some fresh air. If parks or greenways are not available, bring your own portable chair and find a nice place to relax. If only for fifteen minutes this can help improve your mood and feelings of well-being.
6) Offer “on the clock” nature classes/activities: The National Outdoor Learning School (NOLS) offers employees one day a year “on the clock” to get outside and enjoy nature. This is often done in groups and leads to team building as well as improved health. Organizations can offer classes that introduce employees to the health benefits of time in nature, and then have experiential programs that get them out into it. The rewards are significant for the organization (improved employee health and effectiveness) as well as for the employees.
7) Have planning retreats at a botanical garden: Many botanical gardens also offer meetings spaces. These make ideal settings to get out of the office for planning, while also helping to reduce stress. Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens in Belmont, NC and Winghaven Gardens in Charlotte are two that I have utilized with wonderful results.
Improving personal health as well as increasing effectiveness are going to be major priorities for organizations going forward. Google is an organization that gets this and offers numerous perks to improve employee health, well-being and satisfaction. Healthcare is moving to a model of “prevention” to reduce spiraling costs. Organizations continue to search for ways to do more with less. Creating healthier, more natural workplace environments will help to achieve both objectives.