Can’t Think Straight? Take a Hike!

cube farm4My colleague and good friend Diane Coles Levine is fond of saying “It’s a lot easier to think outside the box when you’re not in one.” That’s her way of pointing out that cube farms are not the best environment for creativity and collaboration.

I have written previously about my belief  that knowledge workers don’t just need a workspace, they need many places (“De Uno, Plures – From One, Many”). Work today isn’t monolithic or monotonous, and we need workplaces that offer variety and choice that matches what we do day by day or hour by hour.

And as I pointed out last week (“You Make It, You Own It”), when individuals make choices about where and when to get their work done they “own” those choices and are generally more committed to their work, more productive, and more engaged with their employer.

About five years ago I was part of an international research project team that was seeking to define the attributes of an effective workplace. Our Swedish lead researcher asked each of us on the project team to take a photograph of our favorite part of our own office and then to post it on the project website.

What do you think those photos showed? Almost three quarters of us took a picture of the view outside the nearest window! We all valued our views of nature (my picture from my home office was of our backyard garden, and the view beyond of San Francisco Bay).

There is solid evidence that hospital patients whose beds are next to a window with a natural view typically recover more quickly than those whose beds do not have views of nature:

Twenty-three surgical patients assigned to rooms with windows looking out on a natural scene had shorter postoperative hospital stays, received fewer negative evaluative comments in nurses’ notes, and took fewer potent analgesics than 23 matched patients in similar rooms with windows facing a brick wall.

(Roger S. Ulrich, “View Through a Window May Influence Recovery from Surgery,” Science, 1984)

There’s something about nature that we all find soothing, refreshing, and inspiring. And getting out of the box that is your office can have a powerful impact on your productivity, your emotional frame of mind, and even your sense of self-worth.

Two PathsSo when you are feeling stressed, or stuck, take a break; get up, get out of the office, and take a walk. Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath, in their May 2014 New York Times article “Why You Hate Work,” tell a story about Luke Kissim, the CEO of Albemarle, a multi-billion dollar chemical company. Kissim realized he was personally burning out on the job, so he began taking a break at least every 90 minutes, and he often leaves the building to take a walk around the block.

Kissim is also insisting that all his employees follow suit. He’s put over 1,000 of Albemarle’s managers through a course that’s teaching them how to invest in themselves and in their staff – and a big part of that investment is getting up and taking walks – outside the building.

Finally, another wonderful example of the value of getting back to nature is what’s happened at Western Union’s corporate headquarters in Englewood, Colorado. The company recently redesigned its facilities and landscaped the surrounding grounds to include walking/hiking trails through the woods.

Several weeks ago I heard John Coons, Western Union’s Vice President of Corporate Real Estate, talk about how many of the company’s managers and staff are now taking regular outside walks (weather permitting of course) – and, more importantly, many of the managers have started holding critical one-on-one performance review conversations with their staff out on the trail.

Just think about how much more meaningful those conversations must be than if they were in an enclosed office with a big desk separating the manager from his/her subordinate. As I have said so many times before, place matters. To change the conversation, change the place – and be sure to include Mother Nature in your definition of “place.”

Contact me for a free consultation about how you can change the conversation by changing the place.