I used to sit in front of a window at my office. I adored watching the tops of the trees dance when it was windy and there was natural light that warmed my shoulders as I worked. On particularly sunny days, I’d open the window to feel the breeze on my face. Shortly after, we got succulents for our desks, and a running fountain near the center of the room. Although my workload was just as it had always been, I felt reenergized and refocused surrounded by so much life and movement.
Then the office was rearranged and I was moved to a different floor, into a smaller room—this one with no windows. The office now feels stifling, stressful, and overall unhealthy—with the threat of indoor air pollution, overcrowding, and noise pollution constantly hanging over me. I’m not only less productive, I also feel bored, tired, and unmotivated, although my workload has largely been unchanged.
Where dreams come to die
So how is it that my performance and mood can be altered so drastically, despite my workload remaining the same? Workspaces are inherently stressful places. Stress and its related health consequences in the workplace continue to be a growing problem for employers. Prolonged exposure to stress not only impacts an employee’s mental health and overall quality of life, it can also “increase the likelihood of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer,” according to one study. One way to take work-related stress more seriously is by incorporating something known as “nature contact.”
Nature contact essentially means contact with the outdoors or “outdoor-like elements” such as sunshine or plants. A study conducted by the National Institute of Health in 2011, by Erin Largo-Wight, notes, “Indoor exposure to plants, natural lighting, fish tanks, and a view from the window have been previously associated with less stress among many populations.”
These methods to make a workspace more enriching are important, and should be implemented in conjunction with time off, regular breaks, and working on a schedule that works best for your natural energy rhythms. But, even if you don’t have a ton of natural light, you can still start to feel the impact with some great imagery. Oh yeah, and this Spotify playlist.
Conversely, you can take 'Stressful Sounds of the Office' to the beach
Nature contact is a practical and inexpensive way to enhance a work environment. But how exactly do you incorporate nature contact into the office? According to Largo-Wight, “Creating, enhancing, or promoting the use of outdoor break areas, for example, may be one way.” Unfortunately, if you’re in a major city like NYC, an outdoor break area may not be an option (but even a walk around the block without staring at your phone may help).
Although nature contact is more powerful when it is direct, there are indirect solutions as well. A few ways you can incorporate indirect nature contact would be to open blinds and windows or add indoor plants.
Bringing plants into your workspace actually has the power to change a room’s acoustics by “reducing reverberation time,” according to Inc. Even if the office doesn’t get much direct sunlight, a few scattered succulents could be a simple but impactful fix. There’s also the option of adding small fountains around the office—or an aquarium, if the budget allows it.
Productivity in accounting seems to have taken a dive since they got their aquarium
It’s even possible to incorporate indirect nature contact into your office design. One way you could do this is by setting up desks near windows instead of near the center of the room where there is less sunlight.
It would be additionally beneficial to provide outdoor space like a roof or balcony that your employees can retreat to (or if you’re really desperate, like me, access a fire escape). Also smart is incorporating movement-inspired furniture like the Topo standing mat or color temperature controlled lighting like the Lumen desk lamp. The key here, which also happens to be Fully’s philosophy, is that the furniture can “help your body find its natural posture, rhythm, and flow so you can feel more alive and engaged in your work.” The furniture and the way you arrange it has the potential to literally change your entire work experience.
Not long after I was moved to the windowless room, I was moved again—this time, back to my window. In the few weeks since, I already feel as though a weight has been lifted and I can finally breathe again—and my performance and mood have greatly improved because of it. Now, I keep the window open as often as I possibly can.