10th Jun 2021

Get outside! The benefits of the outdoors for workplace wellness & productivity

Mental Health Awareness Week got us thinking about mindfulness. This years’ theme was all about connecting with nature as a way to support our mental health. Throughout the week, Fooditude’s HR department encouraged our team to go outside and do mindfulness activities.

After completing these activities, we got back to our desks refreshed, calmer and dare we say it, more productive. These experiences made us appreciate the extra energy being outside brought us. Afterwards, we thought to ourselves; let’s write an article about this! Lo and behold, here it is…

One of the nature photos taken by our Fooditude team during Mental Health Awareness Week 2021.

The Science 

So where’s the evidence then, huh?

There are never enough hours in the day to tick everything off the to-do list. Spending time outdoors may seem to be counterproductive. But those lost minutes will be well worth the productivity and wellness boost gained from completing a short outdoor activity. There’s no shortage of research on the topic. In 2021 alone, there’s just short of 5,000 articles that have been published on Google Scholar about ‘the benefits of being outdoors and mental health’. Blimey!

A report titled ‘International Journal of Environmental Health Research’ found that just 20 minutes in a park leads to huge improvements in wellbeing. For employees that take their full hour lunch break, a short midday stroll is easily achievable, whilst also leaving plenty of time to enjoy a nourishing meal.

But what’s this all got to do with productivity?

Firstly, a happier workplace is known to be a more productive one, and going outside provides that headspace on which happiness can be built. There’s a direct link between outdoor time and productivity too; studies have shown that exposure to nature makes people’s attention sharper with a strengthened memory. So, encourage your teams to spend more time outside in nature, whether they’re working from home or in the office. In return, you’ll get back a reinvigorated workforce with a renewed focus and a clearer mindset.

The Trailblazers

Companies are already harnessing the benefits of the outdoors

Your team are (probably) secret outdoor creatures, according to 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”. Fortunately, more companies are growing savvier to the outdoors boost for workplace wellness and productivity.

Here are three examples of how some workplaces have been embracing the outdoors:

  • Patagonia is an outdoor clothing company that is often credited for its commitment to sustainability. They’ve got a wildly successful popular employee perk that helps to support their excellent retention rate with only 4% staff turnover each year. Their ‘Let My People Go Surfing’ policy balances out their employees’ hours so they get a three-day weekend every other week. This extra day off is strongly encouraged to be dedicated to outdoor pursuits by the company.

  • Google has been putting a lot of energy into reshaping their workspaces during the pandemic in anticipation of their employee’s return. In a handful of their locations, Google has created outdoor work areas. Their Silicon Valley headquarters boasts the most extravagant of their outdoor workspaces: ’Camp Charleston’ has been described as a “campsite from the future”, it covers an area equivalent to four tennis courts and comes with all the gadgets and gizmos one would expect from Google.

  • Skullcandy, known for its trendy audio products, originates from Utah, USA and takes inspiration from their local mountain community. Jason Hodell, The CEO of Skullcandy emphasises “our goal is to have our employees come into work each day with a determined spirit and a clear mission”. They encourage an outdoor team mentality by offering outdoor-related perks, including subsidized season passes to mountain resorts and annual team beach parties.

The Implementation

Here’s what you can do for your teams

So, your company may not have the resources of Patagonia or Google to offer extravagant outdoor perks to your employees. Fortunately, creating a company culture that embraces the outdoors doesn’t have to be radical or expensive. Here are some of our ‘quick wins’ to incorporate the outdoors into your workplace:

1. Outdoor pop-up meeting areas
If your workplace is lucky enough to have accessible outdoor space, equip it with appropriate outdoor furniture and ensure it has good wifi – and hey presto! You have a new meeting room (sunny summers permitting)

2. Walk & talk meetings
Steve Jobs’ favourite way to hold a meeting was to take a stroll around his favourite neighbourhood. The exercise boosts blood flow, improves awareness and mood; giving your meeting that extra edge. Plus, no extra costs required!

3. Team picnics
There are not many joys in life that beat a good picnic. During the warmer months of the year, consider providing your team with a packaged food offering that’s easy to eat whilst sitting down on the grass in a nearby park (perhaps not lasagna then).

4. Allow for proper work breaks

One of the simplest things a company can do to give employees more time outdoors is to create a company culture where employees feel empowered to take their full lunch break and coffee breaks throughout the day, with ample opportunity to go outside.

5. Adapt your workplace 
Small changes can be made by companies to encourage their employees to go outside more often. For starters, you can establish a cycle-to-work scheme, install a decent bike rack and encourage staff to use shower & changing facilities to freshen up after sweaty outdoor activities. Take a look around your workplace and think creatively about how it could cater for outdoor lifestyles better.

It’s a wrap! 

So what are the key takeaways here?

There’s never a ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to managing employees and the workplace. With employees working in the office, at home and who-knows-where-else, stringing together a plan feels a bit like herding cats.

We believe in the simple equation, employee + outdoor time = better wellbeing & productivity.
Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, summarises nicely when he says “nature is fuel for the soul”. Enjoying a nourishing meal during the lunch break, a stroll outdoors before getting back to work sets people up nicely for a strong afternoon performance.

To follow an old adage, “you do you, hun”. Each company has its own company culture, its own budgetary limitations and its own way of doing things. The trailblazing companies that are incorporating the outdoors into their workplace culture all have one thing in common – they do it in a way that’s true to their own unique character. Case in point: Patagonia’s brand is all about providing apparel for outdoor adventures, so their ‘Let My People Go Surfing’ policy encourages their staff to take up their own outdoor pursuits.

Remember – change can start off small. A few bitesize adjustments can make a big impact on your employee’s behaviour. Start off simple; whether it’s writing a company newsletter highlighting what pre-existing company perks are available, coordinating a team entry for a sponsored charity walk or simply encouraging your team to count their steps.

After all, going outside for some fresh air costs us nothing.

Published by Fooditude

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