For most of human history, we spent our days outdoors. We hunted, gathered, scavenged and farmed in the open air. But around 300 years ago, we started spending our days working inside, specifically in factories. Despite major changes (mostly positive) in the workplace since then, including mobile technology that allows us to choose how, when and where we work, we still continue to spend most of our time indoors. In fact, today, we spend roughly 93% of our day inside a building or in a vehicle. We can easily do part or all of our job in trains, planes, coffee shops or hotels. But somehow working outside is a foreign concept.
It shouldn’t be. The term “biophilia” (reintroduced by renowned environmentalist E.O. Wilson) refers to our preference as humans to be in and among nature. We simply thrive in it. Study after study shows that not only does being outside in nature improve our mental and physical wellbeing, it improves memory and focus, reduces mental fatigue and increases creativity. It helps us do our jobs better. The more biodiverse the setting, the better.
So if being outside is so good for us, what’s keeping us from going outdoors more, particularly at work, where we spend so much of our day? I recently partnered with L.L.Bean to send a survey to 1,050 American “indoor” workers to find out. We learned that:
- 87% of those surveyed really enjoy the outdoors, but most rarely or never take time to work outside
- 57% of those surveyed said they spend less than half an hour outside during the workday
- 65% said one of their biggest barriers was their job. Job inhibitors included issues with technology (no wifi or power, plus screen glare), organizational culture (they were afraid their boss would think they were goofing off), or their job required them to be indoors (nurses, retail employees, etc.)
Most respondents understand the benefits of nature to them personally, but not as many made the connection that being in nature could improve their performance at work. That said, if they already had an outdoor workspace available to them, they were much more likely to make the connection to productivity.
As part of their “Be an Outsider” marketing campaign, L.L.Bean has partnered with Industrious (a coworking company) to launch the first-ever outdoor coworking space, encouraging people to “Be An Outsider At Work.” This pop-up style workspace started in New York City’s Madison Square Park in June and will travel to urban parks in Boston, Philadelphia, and Madison, WI throughout July. The space includes a mix of work settings including meeting tables, soft seating, even a pedal table – with some spaces covered and some open to the sky. Industrious set up their online room reservation system to allow the public to book space outdoors and reserve a seat ahead of time.
If you can’t get to one of L.L.Bean’s outdoor workspaces, create your own! Find a table, some chairs – maybe an umbrella to “set the stage” and encourage employees to sit outdoors and work. Try doing an outdoor creative brainstorm session with your team, perform “outerviews” (as opposed to interviews) with new job candidates or take a walk with a colleague outdoors for one on one meetings. Many other ideas on how to leverage the outdoors to enhance work performance, as well as the research behind the movement can be found at www.BeAnOutsiderAtWork.com.
Guest Blog Authored By: Leigh Stringer, LEED AP, is a workplace strategy expert and researcher whose work has been covered recently by BBC News, The Globe and Mail, Fortune, CNBC and Good Morning America. She works for EYP, an architecture and engineering firm. She is the author of two bestselling books, The Green Workplace: Sustainable Strategies that Benefit Employees, the Environment and the Bottom Line and The Healthy Workplace: How to Improve the Well-Being of Your Employees—and Boost Your Company’s Bottom Line.
Leigh Stringer works with corporate, government, higher education and institutional clients to help them create sustainable and high-performing workplace environments that enhance well-being and human performance. She has worked with, among others, Google, Cisco, Under Armour, LG, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, Bank of America, Zurich Financial, Ernst & Young, American Express, The MITRE Corporation, the Architect of the U.S. Capitol, the British House of Commons, the U.S. General Services Administration, the World Wildlife Fund, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Columbia University, Baylor University, Washington University in St. Louis and Heathrow Airport.
Leigh is currently collaborating with Harvard University’s School of Public Health, the Center for Active Design in New York, and the American Institute of Architects Washington DC Chapter on Health and Well-being to create new tools, connect like minds and blur the boundaries across industries in order to advance our improve our well-being at work.
Leigh is on the board of directors of a new non-profit, Global Women for Wellbeing, an organization that aims to give women a voice to create better health and wellbeing for themselves, their businesses, and their communities.
Leigh has a Bachelor of Arts, a Masters of Architecture and an MBA from Washington University in St. Louis. Leigh lives with her husband and two daughters in Washington, DC.