How will your team benefit from spending time outside?
Spending time in nature is great for our physical and mental health. That's good news for your employees, but it also offers business benefits. Creating a workplace culture that values spending time in the natural world shows your team that you value their mental well-being. It can help to improve employee retention and engagement and make you an employer of choice.
There are many benefits to time spent in natural environments. Here are just a few that can also have a positive effect on your business.
Greater focus and improved memory
Your team will work more effectively when they can concentrate on the task at hand. This can be challenging in the modern world as there's so much to distract us. However, spending time in nature can help people focus, particularly if they try to remove distractions, say by leaving their mobile phones behind. Time spent outside in the fresh air gives their minds space to relax, which can bring renewed concentration when they return to the office.
Research shows that time spent away from the office can improve memory and boost cognitive performance, leading to improved decision-making within your business.
Improved energy levels
Business life can be busy; sometimes, you need all hands on deck to complete a critical task or project. However, this can damage your employees' long-term well-being and impair their performance. Working long hours without a break or trying to do too much in a short time frame causes energy levels to drop, impairing performance.
Regular breaks are essential as they allow us to rest and recharge. Research suggests that time outdoors boosts our energy levels more than other types of rest, so encouraging your staff to go outside for a break can help them return refreshed.
Time outdoors can help your team remove themselves from the stress of everyday life. Spending time in nature allows your teams to take time away from workplace stress and personal worries and enjoy the fresh air and green spaces. Forest bathing originated in Japan and has become more prevalent in Western societies. It allows us to immerse ourselves in the natural environment, can reduce our blood pressure and stress hormone levels and may even boost our immune system.
It can be an ideal way to avoid employee stress and burnout.
Time in nature offers physical health benefits, including bone-strengthening vitamin D. However, it can also help to boost our mood. Exposure to fresh air and sunlight can be particularly important during winter when daylight hours are shorter and bad weather leaves us spending more time indoors.
Research by the Mental Health Foundation shows that spending time in nature helped many of us deal with stress during the COVID-19 pandemic and can increase our sense of well-being.
Research has shown that having a best friend at work increases employee engagement. Encouraging your employees to build stronger workplace relationships makes them more likely to support each other, which benefits your business. Spending time with other people in nature helps create stronger communities, reducing crime and antisocial behaviours and encouraging neighbours to help one another. The same principle applies in the workplace.
Encouraging your teams to get together outside can also help to break down barriers between different teams or between management and staff. This enables increased collaboration and communication that can bring business growth.
Creative thinking can help your business grow. However, it's unlikely to flourish in a high-stress environment where employees feel tied to their desks for long hours each day. Many of us have likely experienced the feeling of being stuck trying to solve a problem, only to find a solution as soon as we head out for a walk.
The reasons behind this are complex, as nature affects the human brain in various ways. However, the combination of reduced stress, increased cognitive performance, more energy and a better mood likely all contribute. It's also been suggested that allowing our minds to wander and come up with more creative ideas is beneficial.
How can you encourage your team to spend more time in nature?
Understanding the benefits of time in nature is one thing, but how can you motivate your employees to spend time outdoors? Here are a few ideas.
Time outside can increase productivity, but you might assume it means taking a break from practical tasks. However, a walking meeting can enable your team to discuss ideas in a more unstructured way than would be possible in a formal office setting.
Outdoor workspaces have become increasingly popular post-pandemic, with Microsoft and Shutterstock adopting green workspaces even in urban areas. Consider how you could adapt your workplace to design outdoor offices for full-time or part-time use. Of course, environmental controls and privacy would need careful consideration.
Start a lunchtime walking group
A lunchtime walking group increases the social connection between staff and allows people from different areas of your business to get to know each other outside work. This approach works particularly well if you want to create a workplace culture that doesn't focus on drinks after work, which may not be practical for many staff.
You can choose your approach based on staff needs. Consider appointing a walk coordinator to plan different routes or provide maps or other resources to allow people to decide where to walk. Some local councils have activity officers who work to boost workplace activity and act as guides where necessary.
Encourage staff to take a lunch break
Taking a proper lunch break enables your employees to rest and recharge. A lunchtime walk is excellent, but some staff may prefer relaxing during their break. Providing outside spaces where people can relax is ideal. An indoor break room with plenty of natural light and some plants provides an alternative during bad weather. Both options also enable staff to bring in healthy lunches from home rather than heading to the nearest takeaway, providing you also have a safe place for them to store food. This has its own benefits and can form part of initiatives to improve your employees' health.
Bring the outside into your office
Working or spending significant time outside isn't always practical, so taking steps to bring the outside in is a great alternative. If you work in a rented building in the middle of a city, outdoor workspaces could be impractical or downright unpleasant if they expose your staff to traffic pollution.
Placing plants around the office improves the air quality, offering some of the benefits of time outdoors and creating a relaxing atmosphere. Lighting rooms with natural daylight rather than artificial lighting is also beneficial.
You can also display images of the natural world around the office. While this won't have the same benefits as spending time in nature, it can help promote a sense of calm.
Encourage active commuting
Even if you work in a city, active commuting gives your team time outside and can increase their exposure to daylight and fresh air. Encourage your staff to commute using public transport as this typically involves some walking. Alternatively, consider signing up for a cycle to work scheme, which allows your staff to buy a bike and cycling equipment via salary sacrifice so they pay less tax and national insurance. They can spend time outdoors before arriving at work, and it's a more environmentally friendly way to travel.
Invest in business medical insurance
Medical insurance is a highly valued employee benefit, providing access to private healthcare when needed. However, it can also help your staff to improve their general health. Many business health insurance policies offer screening that lets your employees set health goals and work towards achieving them.
Your insurer can also provide anonymised data, allowing you to plan workplace wellness initiatives. This can help build a culture that values health and wellness, motivating staff to improve their well-being and supporting you in creating appropriate initiatives.
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