Humans are both indoor and outdoor creatures. We have simultaneously erected megacities while protecting forests and swamplands from manmade development. Some of us assuage our craving for nature by integrating brisk walks into our day and, perhaps, the occasional outdoor excursion into our otherwise sheltered lives. Even those of us who would rather a vacation filled with museums and city tours than a trek through a virgin forest, still harbor an appreciation for lush green spaces in our environments.
I am no wood sprite, but I do feel a sense of calm when I see a green courtyard or artificial waterfall integrated into a shopping mall or business center. Recently, I visited a café in Cambridge that is located on the ground floor of an office building. Normally, to get to the café I would cross the concrete path that bisects the manicured grass. However, due to construction, the familiar path is barred with a chain-link fence and visitors must enter the building from the side. Another side (haha) effect of the construction is that the restrooms on the ground floor are temporarily out-of-service. Guests now must take the elevator up one floor to relieve themselves.
In search of the second-floor restroom, I began to meander through the hallways of the office building. I passed by offices all with the same layout: a glass wall that exposes the company logo, a front desk, some meetings rooms, and sometimes a common area. One office that stuck out to me in particular was CollegeVine, a company that provides college application guidance to high school students. True to its name, CollegeVine integrates leafy green foliage into its office design. A plant with cascading leaves spills over the reception desk, as potted plants hang in decoration from an industrial gray-colored wall. The integration of green into the confines of a modern office building is a lovely way to bring the outdoors into our daily lives.
Research suggests that a “green” office may increase our productivity. The ‘lean’ office concept developed in the early 1990s was designed to maximize productivity by eliminating ‘waste.’ For decades, architects have put a premium on standardization, flow, and focus, inadvertently solidifying the cubicle as an office mainstay. While the innovation was designed with good intention, it goes without saying that small human pens are not the most conducive to unbridled ingenuity and employee satisfaction.
Devoid of distractions, we humans are unhappy little beasties. A British psychological study concluded that employees exposed to just a few houseplants in an otherwise ‘lean’ office increased productivity by 15%. Other studies have found that exposure to nature in the office can help reduce stress, improve mood, and stimulate learning.
We humans are forever dancing across the threshold keeping one toe in the warm earth and sliding the other into a business professional pump. Perhaps, bringing nature into the workspace returns us to our inherent bi-environmental, conflicted human state. Or, perhaps, our increased satisfaction in vegetation-friendly offices give us a literal breath of fresh air, by reducing CO2 levels by 10% – 25%. Whatever the reason may be, it is clear that we benefit (at least a little) from a nature in our industrial surroundings. So, whether the answer is a brief walk in the park during the lunch hour or a tiny succulent by your computer, I hope you are able to take advantage of and find joy in nature even when you are on the clock.
Have a happy work day!