Think outside the office box to boost productivity and peace of mind

By Peter Ferrari, Chief Executive of AshbyCapital

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, an important event that highlights the need for honesty and openness when it comes mental health issues at home and in the workplace. In business, the focus on concepts such as wellbeing and wellness has had a positive impact on employee engagement and it is clear that good mental health has far-reaching benefits for society.

Yet meanwhile, the UK’s productivity puzzle remains unsolved. The Office of National Statistics recently reported that labour productivity in this country is lower over the past decade than at any time in the 20th century, with figures showing a 0.1% fall in productivity for Q1 2019 when compared to the same period in 2018.

The correlation between employee wellness and productivity has long been known. 61% of respondents to the 2018 Global Human Capital Trends survey agreed wellness and wellbeing programmes improved employee productivity and bottom-line business results. And a report from Deloitte puts the cost of poor wellbeing and mental health to UK businesses at £30 billion, with 60% caused by reduced productivity at work.

Nonetheless, though good mental health in the workplace has never been more talked about and valued, UK productivity continues to fall. So, where are we going wrong?

Reports from the UK Green Building Council and other organisations have shown that natural light is the most desired feature employees look for in the workplace and studies have shown that workers with good access to natural light are up to 40% more productive. Similarly, plants are known to improve air quality, leading to the popularisation of the so-called living wall in offices.

But, with productivity falling, perhaps we need to go straight to the source. The Mental Health Foundation has said that spending time in green space or bringing nature into your everyday life can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing and advises taking everyday activities outdoors to feel the benefits. By taking work outside, employees get a change of scenery, natural surroundings, fresh air, and activity, helping to reduce anxiety and stimulate the brain. Indeed, studies have shown that time spent outside has a destressing effect, reducing the heartrate, inflammation, and levels of fatigue and the stress hormone cortisol.

With an increasing number of businesses now offering flexible working schedules, and the weather beginning to improve, employees have more opportunity to take work outdoors. A growing number of property developers are catering to this by incorporating communal, outdoor space into commercial buildings. At The Future Works, our office scheme with U+I in Slough, our Wi-Fi connected terrace offers employees a great spot for outdoor working. But even for those without the perfect set-up, modern technology means that, with a bit of planning, venturing outside is possible for most office workers. Local parks, a private garden or balcony, where there is internet access or enough 4G reception to set up a hot spot, are ideal. And, though lounging on a blanket may seem idyllic, proper seating is required for productive working – benches suit perfectly. A portable charger will ensure laptops do not run out of power and, to prevent sun glare from obscuring laptop screens, an anti-glare screen film (or some shade) will help.

Working outside is a simple but effective means of improving employee wellbeing and mental health. By rethinking traditional wellness schemes and encouraging outside working via flexible working hours, or the provision of outdoor space, businesses can improve productivity – and reap the rewards long term.