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Are wilder workplaces a step to restorative work?

Sensemaking / Are wilder workplaces a step to restorative work?

If we want to transform our working lives, we should all think what small changes we can make to our routines and spaces to get closer to the natural world. Where will you start?

By Anna Simpson / 18 Mar 2016

This article is part 3 of 3 in "Rewilding the workplace" - our Futures Centre discussion topic of the month. Read the crowdsourced insights gathered from part 1, and  continue the discussion with part 2 "What can workplace design learn from nature?". 

A month ago we launched a discussion asking what it would look like to work in ways that actually enhance our health and wellbeing — and that of the planet. What if our working lives left us feeling as vibrant and relaxed as our ‘time out’ does? And what if our output actually replenished our natural surroundings, rather than drawing too heavily on them? Can we break out of this cycle of draining ourselves and our resources, and then ‘doing our bit’ to restore them, and rather work in ways that simply make life better?

This ‘net positive’ approach to work is a huge leap from today’s mainstream, but our discussion tapped into an appetite for imagining things afresh.

The dream of a better work-life balance, with shorter or fewer working days, is unsurprisingly popular. It’s striking that we spend so much of our time doing tasks we see as distinct from our real lives — the lives that actually matter to us. What we really want is to spend more time with our families, more time relaxing, more time outdoors… Can our work help us achieve these deeper, personal goals? One contributor, Lucie Galinon, imagines “a workplace where work is a real choice, where self-development and creativity replace productivity”. Should we be asking for ‘greater meaning’ from our office design? Could our workplaces inspire us with purpose and ethics? These are questions raised in a New York Times report that Jiehui Kia shared.

Many of us are looking to nature as a way to rethink both what we do and how we do it. Work has always been related to social status. This is a wider calling to rethink our place in the world: “We are nature”, as Mark Morey reminded us. How are current trends in working styles affecting this? Is automation necessarily a de-wilding of work? Or could it offer an opportunity to free ourselves up to connect more with nature through and beyond our working lives? Gwyneth Fries shared the spoof video Nature RX, which proposes ‘Nature’ as a prescribed cure to our stress-related social woes: “Nature can reduce cynicism, meaninglessness, anal retentiveness and murderous rage.”Tim Mack drove this even further: could it help us overcome a more primordial fear of redundancy as a species, as artificial intelligence affects more and more aspects of our lives?

We asked what difference it makes if we bring nature into the office. Does contact with plants and natural light increase our creativity and wellbeing, and can suggestions of nature have a similar impact to experiencing the great outdoors first hand? The 2015 report, ‘Human Spaces: The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace’, found that two-thirds (67%) of respondents reported feeling happy when walking into bright office environments accented with ‘natural colors’ such as green, yellow, blue or brown.

The Nature RX video comes with a ‘health warning’: contact with nature could lead you to ask “What am I doing with my life?” — and even quit your job! 

If we want to transform our working lives, we should all think what small changes we can make to our routines and spaces to get closer to the natural world. Where will you start? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

By Anna Simpson

More in the ‘Rewilding the workplace’ series:

Image credit: Jamie Cooper

What might the implications of this be? What related articles have you seen?

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