Are outdoor offices the future? The Nordics lead the way
Working outdoors would be considered a novelty for most of us, but research from Scandinavia suggests that more effort should be put into making it the norm
Spending time outdoors has become fashionable, with most of us appreciating our time outside more in the wake of the lockdowns and struggles of the pandemic. But now several studies are underway which investigate the possibility of bringing the benefits of spending time outdoors into our workplaces.
The benefits of this shift in thinking about where work is conducted is significant as research indicates that that regular outdoor office work can contribute to making workers feel healthier and more alert, as well as more present and less stressed.
The positive effect we experience from being outdoors has been reinforced by academic research for many years. In the early 2000s, a team of researchers in Japan began studying what happens in the body when exhausted people take a walk in the woods. They conducted tests before and after the walks. The long-term results were striking. They found that after a walk in the woods the immune system was strengthened, stress hormones were decreased, and cognitive abilities were improved. One could say that nature acts as a resting place for our brains.
Workspaces in focus
In the Nordics, there are now several studies underway which investigate the possibility of bringing these positive effects and the enjoyment of spending time outdoors into our workplaces. ‘Research shows that spending time in nature makes us feel good. It increases empathy, co-operation and wellbeing,’ says Susanna Toivanen, Professor of Sociology at Mälardalen University and Associate Professor at Stockholm University.
Despite nature’s beneficial effects, people in the Nordics spend an average of 80-90 percent of their time indoors. Traditionally, office work is also done indoors, contributing to these statistics. But it doesn’t have to be this way – there are actually a lot of tasks that can be done outside in nature. And employees might find that it helps the quality of their work as some of the benefits of working outdoors include being more creative, getting fresh air and capturing that all-important daylight, Susanna Toivanen explains.
And it is not only during the warmer seasons that we should work outdoors – quite the opposite. ‘Especially during the darker part of the year, we need to maximise our intake of daylight. Too little daylight can make us sleep less and get more tired during the day,’ Susanna Toivanen says. Working outdoors also reduces stress levels and allows us to recover better, which is positive in today’s fast-paced working life where more employees are having to take sick leave.
How to get started
‘For companies that want to get started with outdoor work, it is crucial that managers and other leaders inform, inspire and lead by example,’ says Toivanen. ‘Map the available spaces, such as terraces and other outdoor environments. Implementing a workplace culture where it becomes normal to talk on the phone, work or take meetings outside in nature can do a lot of good for employees’ health.’
Kajsa Högdahl, Business Development Manager at Coor in Sweden, agrees: ‘For those of us who deliver workplace services, it is important to be part of this development. It feels very important because today we have fewer and fewer opportunities for recovery in everyday life. If you can get a moment of movement and a change of environment, or in the best of all world, work part of the day outdoors, you have a lot to gain.’
There is a significant amount of global instability for companies to deal with and, on top of this, research shows that one in three employees in the Nordics would consider changing jobs if their needs are not being met. Employers need to offer better experiences and provide more support for their employees – this might start with opening the doors for employees to work outside but it might require deeper thinking about the state of the workplace.
To find out more about the challenges that companies are facing, access Coor’s ‘Join the Workplace Revolution’ report here.