Why Your Workers Need Nature (And How to Give it to Them)

It's no secret that the workplace is changing, and has been for some time. Gone are the lines of zombie-eyed suits sloughing through office doorways at 8:59, the pounding fluorescent beams bouncing off muted walls. Yikes! Nobody wants that. The clock-punching drudgery of days past is certainly not something today's shrewd and vibrant workforce aspires to. And, of course, it's not an identity that forward-thinking business owners and managers want to project, either.

Sure, some companies stuck in the quicksands of time will always view people as disposable resources. (Tip: Don't work for them.) The organizations built for the future, though, are putting effort into investing in the individual. By prioritizing the wellness of their workers, these companies are not only seeing a return on investment in terms of worker productivity – they're also upping their retention rates and positioning themselves as more attractive landing spots for a new wave of dynamic workers brandishing a new set of values.

 

THE ULTIMATE PERK YOU'RE NOT OFFERING YET: NATURE

Communal work spaces, blazing-fast technology, yoga classes, pinball machines, fresh-baked cookies, transit passes, relaxed dress policies, remote work options, and so on. These are just a few of the perks companies are offering in order to attract and retain a generation of workers that, according to recent surveys, rank work/life balance second only to compensation in terms of importance. 

These perks are meant to acknowledge workers' desire for flexibility while also prioritizing their mental and emotional wellness. No matter how many meditation classes you offer or in-office baristas you hire, though, no perk will have the wellness benefits (and bottom-line benefits) of the one perk you're likely forgetting. Immersion in the natural world, whether it's in short spurts or longer retreats, is damn near priceless.

How, exactly? Well, in more ways than you can probably imagine. And each will benefit your workers as individuals and your workplace environment as a whole. Here are just a few:

 

  • Nature decreases stress. Countless studies conducted around the globe have correlated exposure to nature to a decrease in the physiological symptoms of stress. In Japan, research subjects strolling in the woods had significantly lower heart rates, blood pressure, and stress hormone levels than their city-strolling counterparts. In Finland, city dwellers spending only a few minutes in an urban green space reported much lower stress levels than those walking the city streets. England, the US, Canada, the Netherlands. The results are the same no matter where the studies were performed. Independent of geography, independent of culture, nature has been found to decrease stress.

 

  • Nature also lowers incidences of stress's nasty by-products. Unchecked stress can lead to sickness and sometimes even chronic disease. A Dutch study produced in 2009 found that 15 major diseases, including severe depression and anxiety, occurred less often in individuals residing within one kilometer of a green space. So nature can both help lower stress andpromote continued wellness – keeping employees happier at work, and atwork, period.

 

  • Nature increases happiness. In a 2015 study, researchers at Stanford University comparing woodland and urban hikers found that exposure to nature profoundly influenced mood. The woodland hikers were found to have significantly lower levels of post-hike rumination, which is the dwelling on negative thoughts or feelings. In addition, this group showed a noticeable increase in brain activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex. Lack of activity in this region has been linked to depression and anxiety.

 

  • Nature heightens creativity and sharpens focus. You know that we're perpetually dialed into devices and endlessly bombarded with myriad stimuli at all hours. But did you know it's impacting the clarity and nimbleness of your thinking? Luckily, immersion in nature – and the temporary technological disconnection that ideally accompanies it – can have a significant regenerative impact on your prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain tied to creativity and problem solving. In fact, a 2012 University of Utah study showed participants on a 4-day backpacking trip could complete nearly 50% more problem-solving puzzles than a control group. Even in shorter excursions, though, immersion in nature has been found to rejuvenate the brain's ability to think clearly, expansively, and creatively.

 

  • Nature facilitates generosity. Can exposure to nature make you a kinder and more trusting person? A wide range of studies suggest, absolutely! Research conducted in 2014 by UC Berkeley exposed subjects to nature imagery and then observed their behavior playing board games. These subjects were found to be more likely to play in a trusting and ethical manner than those not exposed to the nature images. Countless other experiments reveal similar findings – that natural beauty generates powerful feelings like awe and wonder that translate into more giving and ethical behavior, and more of a willingness to cooperate.

 

BRING YOUR WORKPLACE TO NATURE

Stress reduction. Improved health. Increased happiness, creativity, and generosity. Of course any worthwhile business owner or manager would be looking to acquire these kinds of benefits by the truckload. But you don't necessarily just want to cut your employees loose to Thoreau it up in the woods for a month at a time, right? Nor do your employees want to cut loose for that kind of extended rejuvenation, anyway, no matter how necessary it's been proven to be. (Case in point, in 2016, 662 million U.S. vacation days were left on the table.) And, of course, sabbaticals and week-long corporate retreats in far flung places can be unrealistic and expensive. So how to combine work and wellness and nature in a way that's convenient, productive, and re-energizing for your entire team? 

The answer is: you bring your workplace to nature.

Branches is creating hybrid spaces (that combine workspaces, a boutique hotel, and a wellness retreat) that are designed to re-energize employees and inspire them to do their best work. And the first location (slated to open in 2019) is only two hours from New York City, easily accessible by car or public transportation and tucked into a peaceful wooded glen along a burbling creek in the heart of the rolling Catskill Mountains. And if that description alone relaxes you, imagine what the actual experience would do…

Our branches are designed to offer employees of forward thinking organizations a new place to work remotely.  Trips to these one-of-a-kind retreats are escapes out of the urban environment and everyday routine, allowing employees to recharge without sacrificing connectivity or productivity. Employees will no longer have to choose between the distractions of working from home (laundry, neighbors, chores) and working from work (endless meetings, office "pop-ins," break room gossip). Now there's a third option that combines the best of both and leaves the rest behind in the city, one that's specifically designed for focus and rejuvenation.

 

WHERE WORK AND WELLNESS MEET

Unlike existing hotels with conference facilities, Branches locations combine the design and technology of an activity-based office with a next-generation wellness retreat. Each dynamic location features both quiet and social workspaces (fully tech-enabled), private accommodations, and access to a wide variety of outdoor and indoor activities. Innovative on-site fitness and wellness amenities complement hiking, fly fishing, swimming, and tennis, as well as cultural and culinary discovery opportunities. There will also be workshops on on meditation, nutrition, and other holistic strategies for maximizing mindfulness and achieving your best and most productive self. 

But, of course, beyond the ground-breaking combination of activities and work spaces situated in nature, there is the main attraction: the nature itself. For miles in every direction you'll find the sublime and breathless workings of the natural world, ready to support your wanderings and spark new ideas in a setting with the capacity for endless inspiration and perpetual renewal. And it's all only two hours from the urban din and bustle of the New York metro area.

 

LEARN MORE ABOUT BRANCHES

We too often take it for granted, but the natural world can offer untold benefits for body mind, and spirit. These are benefits that too few organizations are utilizing in order to fuse productivity with personal renewal. Full company retreats at Branches – or visits by individual employees or small teams – will reinforce your company’s focus on work-life design, wellness, and exceptional employee experience.

If you're interested in increasing productivity while uplifting your current employees and attracting your top recruits, it's time we talked. Head to www.visitbranches.com to learn more or reach out to us directly at hello@visitbranches.com or (833) 247-2642.