Benefits of Working Outdoors
Many of us have been stuck at home working within the same four walls for the duration of the pandemic. Whilst it’s easy (in theory) to balance work activity with play, and to have more autonomy over our work space and time, the reality is a lot of people sit in the same place, inside, for long periods. And this has a detrimental effect on our mental health, engagement and output.
Accenture found that employees with a hybrid working model have better mental health, stronger work relationships and experience less burnout than those who work entirely onsite or entirely remotely. When we can escape our single-work-space, we stimulate our brains. We see different people, changing light, a variety of aromas and noise that grabs our attention.
As home-working long term is now becoming a reality for a lot of employees, we need to consciously think about how to keep ourselves feeling good and performing well. That means working outside of our familiar, predictable surroundings.
The Nature Connection
Humans have a biological connection to nature, referred to as biophilia. Forbes highlights data about the benefits of being outside on our mental and physical health, and performance:
- less stressed
- refreshed and more energetic
- improves memory function
- increases happiness
- reduced inflammation
The obvious conclusion is that instead of ‘saving’ those opportunities to get outside for our breaks (still too often considered a luxury use of time), we should be prioritising them. In the book Biophilic Design: Theory, Science and Practice, the authors share that connecting with nature is essential to wellbeing and productivity.
Where is the Best Space to Work?
“Asking where people should work in the future might be the wrong question. A better question is: What makes someone more productive and healthier in the face of a challenge, regardless of where they might physically work in the future?” Accenture.
When companies put their people first and allow employees to be productive everywhere, they are more loyal, with as many as 85% planning to stay with the organisation long term. We have to put individual’s need for autonomy, connection to people and nature, and positive mental health top of the agenda – and this looks different for every member of the workforce. We need to step away from desks, get outside and find somewhere where we can be our best.
Sounds simple yet, according to the L.L. Bean 2018 Work and the Outdoors Survey:
- 87% of indoor workers consider themselves someone who enjoys the outdoors. But 75% of indoor workers surveyed rarely or never take time to work outside.
- 57% of indoor workers spend less than half hour outside during the work day.
- 65% of survey respondents their job is the biggest barrier to spending time outdoors – followed by weather (42%) and housework (33%).
As work appears to be the biggest barrier to working outside, companies need to be proactive in encouraging it and innovative in finding ways to make that possible. L.L. Bean suggests some ways to help employees get outside during the working day:
- Have a patio area with tables, chairs and umbrellas
- Equip your company’s outdoor area with WiFi, power outlets, and anti-glare screens
- Let employees reserve the patio area for meetings just like any conference room
- Try team-building exercises in a park
- Schedule walking meetings
- Conduct interviews outdoors
- Have managers hold weekly 1-on-1 alfresco check-ins
A really simple solution to increase your time outside to benefit your mental health, and to promote your physical health at the same time, is to GET ON YOUR FEET! Walking and talking is a great way to exercise and enjoy some time away from the computer. Too often our mindset is that we require a pen and paper or a screen. But the reality is that we can often have a call and then follow up with an email. Or, I’ve been known to add notes to my phone whilst standing in the middle of a field… 100 times better than sitting at my desk.
The Reason Coffee Shops (ideally their outdoor areas!) are a Good Choice
We can do ourselves a big favour by setting up space in a coffee shop or places where the stimuli from moderate noise, people and visual variety enable us to sharpen our cognitive skills. Studies suggest that a moderate level of ambient noise disrupts your routine cognitive processing, increases your abstract thinking and enhances your creative output. ‘The coffee shop effect’ also appears to improve our decision making, and seeing other people working exerts a sense of expectation for us to do the same, motivating us to focus on the task at hand.
Visual Stimulation also improves Cognitive Performance. Working from home can feel onerous as we look at the same thing day in, day out. Our brain quickly becomes bored with repetition and familiar, predictable surroundings. Visual variety increases creativity as it’s easier to think ‘outside the box’.
We know that connecting with other people is critical to our mental health and building stronger relationships. When we do this in informal surroundings, our work benefits too, as we relax and naturally pause for more breaths. Contrast that to sitting in front of a screen and staring intently at colleagues or clients, following an agenda and being outcome driven.
Short of Coffee Shops?
Hybrid or home working does not need to be constrained to the predictable environments. Instead, consider the options available to you…
- Coffee Shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs (avoid the very noisy, which is a barrier to performance), ideally in their outdoor space
- Beaches, gardens or parks
- Coworking spaces
- Hotel lobbies
- Someone else’s home, or garden
- Porches – why not?!
- Local universities
- ‘Man Caves’ and ‘She Sheds’
- Camper vans
Over recent years, the shift in priorities for many organisations has been from money to people, in recognition that employees are a company’s biggest asset and the best way to maximise a return on investment. The greater interest in work-life balance, collaboration and productivity means employers need to accept that work is an activity, and not a place, and that getting the physical environment right can be incredibly rewarding.
The Accenture Future of Work Study 2021 recognised that responsible leaders must move beyond the physical location to shape the future of work. 83% of over 9000 workers from around the world who took part stated their preference for hybrid working and the good news is that 63% of high growth companies have already adopted a ‘productivity anywhere’ workforce model.
Cisco, where my husband work, recognises just that. Their message is clear: work is something you do, not somewhere you go. We have benefitted from working in a variety of interesting places in our camper as working on the move has become easier than ever. The essence of that was captured in the award-winning film Nomadland and The Sunday Times featured an article recently on ‘hitting the road’ where the idea of a fixed work place was considered old-school. Traditional aspirations of owning a house and being stuck with a mortgage may well be stepping aside for more transient modes of living and working.
So, get yourself a camper!!! Alternatively, if like most people your wheels consist of a car, bus or bike, get outside with your laptop. Enjoy disrupting the norm, boosting your mental health and increasing your performance. Oh, and the coffee!
For more information and workshops that show you how to maximise mental health, wellbeing and brain performance, get in touch!
- Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition. Mehta, R, Zhu, R. & Cheema, A. Journal of Consumer Research, Vol 39, No.4 pp784-799Dec 2012.
- Why you’re more creative in coffee shops – BBC Worklife
- The Future of Work | Accenture
- 5 Data-Backed Ways Working Outdoors Can Improve Employee Well-Being (forbes.com)