The Culture of Outdoors Indoors

Oliver Heath Biophilic design, Healthy spaces, Office

Article written by guest author: Naomi Stone

Employee Engagement Manager, St Monica Trust

Business Psychologist, MBPsS, MSc, BSc (Hons), Assoc CIPD

Any gardener will tell you that the time they spend in a garden brings them a feeling of calm. They’re immersed in the changing seasons — from bare branches, to buds through to full colour and greenery. They tune in to the squirrels busying away and notice the to-ing and fro-ing of our diverse British birdlife. We, as humans, are attracted to natural spaces because nature give us an innate feeling of contentment and connection — that’s what the biophilia hypothesis is all about.

While we’re not all working gardeners, research into the biophilia hypothesis tells us that bringing nature or natural elements into our workplaces is one way to support well-being and reduce levels of stress. Connection with nature during the working day has been shown to improve accuracy, cognition, creativity and restore our attention, not to mention numerous health benefits. We intuitively and innately crave connection with nature and natural elements — and now we have a sound body of psychological evidence to back that up. So, as an HR practitioner, I’m on a mission to use that knowledge to improve workplace well-being.

We love the plants in our office; admittedly it’s sometimes a challenge to keep them alive but that’s our connection with them — watering, making sure they have light and noticing changes. We also go out for regular ‘wellbeing walks’ in the garden. My colleagues and I always return feeling rejuvenated, we regain our focus when back at our desks and, importantly, we’ve had the chance for a natter and to connect with each other.

Field Study

I recently conducted a field study, as part of a Masters in Occupational Psychology, and gathered data from fifty indoor workers working in a variety of sectors. The results gave interesting insights into how people respond to taking time out to pause and notice the nature around them. The data told me that taking a break for ten minutes in a nature-filled outdoor environment reduced overall negative mood during the working day, which correlated to better levels of job satisfaction, compared with a control group.

From an open-ended question at the end of the experiment, I was surprised to find a number of participants reported that the very act of taking a pause at work, even during a contracted break, is guilt-inducing. They said things like: “the study has reminded me that I am able to engage with nature even during the busy times at work”, “it was sometimes stressful to fit in a ten minute break”, “(the study) made me take a break, that I wouldn’t normally”, “it was a particularly busy week with no time for a break”, “it was great to have the excuse (to take a break)”.

The study’s results and concluding feedback reinforce to me, that while bringing nature indoors and having accessible outdoor spaces with natural elements are important for employee well-being, this must go hand in hand with role modelling, encouragement and permission to connect with nature. This inevitably means taking a pause to enable that connection.

Like indoor workers, working gardeners also face day to day challenges — the British weather, which delays work and disrupts the best laid plans; tricky clients; time and finance pressures; late delivery of supplies; safety risks; clearing up muddy jobs, to name just a few. But what gardeners know is that being immersed in and connected to nature is ultimately the best antidote to the pressures that come with the job.

So, I endorse bringing nature indoors and combining it with a culture that enables opportunities to pause and reflect in relation to those biophilic elements. Focus in, water, nurture the plants and take notice.

Insights from the Oliver Heath Design Team

Workplace culture experts have found that there is certainly a hierarchy culture within businesses that can hold people back in embracing biophilic design in the workplace. This means that having an employer that backs sustainable ways of thinking is essential and should go hand in hand with implementing biophilia into work life and spaces.

In order for biophilic elements to have an effect, employees and workers need to be able to take these moments without guilt otherwise an essential piece of the premise is missing.

We can help with developing new or existing spaces that incorporate Biophilic Design elements in a range of sectors including; office, healthcare, hospitality, retail and residential. Get in contact today to find out more or you can download our ‘Creating Positive Spaces Using Biophilic Design’ design guide here.