If a few potted plants in the office window can increase productivity and creativity with up to 15%, and reduce stress by 37%, what would an entire forest be capable of? Suston’s editor Jonathan Fraenkel-Eidse uses lockdown  to find out.

The first weeks of lockdown were tough for many of us. After a few exercises in futility with home office – aka dirty dishes and laundry day – I found myself quickly longing for my old workspace, a lively coworking hub in central Oslo.  Having gone all-in on “The Big Green Office Trend,” it was beginning to look like a proper mini-jungle, complete with vines, “living walls” and palm trees on the rooftop terrace.

Now in these strange coronavirus times, far down the list of worries we can also fear the worst for many of these abandoned, unwatered green offices. Yet with a little distance from my office, I’ve had time to reflect on this trend and where it might be heading: At one point or another we reach a limit for how much “outside” we can fit “inside” before we need to start taking a machete to work. Or, as I discovered, there is a much more straightforward way to get the same nature benefits: by simply working outside.

Office unplugged

So, for the last 2 months I’ve packed my laptop, solar panels and a whole lot of coffee down to my new favorite outdoor workspace, a quiet lake close to my home. Once arrived, I typically first spend a moment getting better acquainted with my surroundings. The smells, the sounds, the light.  I hear a nesting grey goose’s honk! across the lake. A huge (really!) pike swims slowly along the water’s edge. A curious frog hops up and volunteers for an impromptu photoshoot.

After five long minutes have passed, I’m ready to open my laptop. I sit still while I work, but it’s as though the place itself passes me by as its stories slowly unfold. Out here, countless magnificent performances are enacted every single day. Actors frog, fish and goose make their entré, perform, and make their exeunt in a timeless drama with a golden, glittering lake as backdrop.

Creativity flows. I get a lot done. I think I’ve been so effective, in fact, that I decide to take a little dip. And after all this, it’s still one more hour until lunch. What should I get up to now, I wonder, and begin on what should have been tomorrow’s task…

The antithesis of Time Crunch

For many, the above outdoor office experience may sound exaggerated, maybe even fictitious. True, the experience might be rare for us adults. Yet many likely can recall the feeling from summer vacations as a child.

Researchers have found evidence for it, in any case, and call the experience of time expanding in nature as “time abundance.” While 30 minutes may feel like hardly enough time to respond to a few emails in a state of time crunch, it’s amazing what one can do with all 1800 seconds in a state of time abundance. The same time, but different experiences due to place.

Similar research has found the correlation between creativity and time spent in nature, with some reports finding a 50% increase in creative problem-solving skills after an extended time spent outdoors. Fifty percent!

Some (un)practical info

Of course, outdoor workspaces are not all frogs, swimming and creative euphoria. Things one quickly gains an appreciation for out here include toilets, coffee-makers and water faucets, electrical sockets, infinite wi-fi and the applied science ingenuity of “office ergonomics.”

Indoors offices are great, too. Many people find their offices to be fun and social, and that’s perhaps their single best attribute. There are six additional good reasons why most office workers in the northern hemisphere find themselves in an indoors office and not an outdoors one: months October to March. That’s why in rain and cold, I still look forward to a warm lunch indoors with friendly colleagues over a cold cup coffee with my photogenic frog.

But for me, indoors office time is all too often experienced as insufficient.  A not uncommon day at my office involves me opening my laptop and before I know it I’m already on my way home, brain humming with tired, misfiring synapses wondering where the day had disappeared?

Worklife after lockdown

The last months haven’t been easy, but one lesson I’ll take with me from these exceptional times is that offices are simply not the ideal workspace for all tasks at all times. Besides, life tends to get too busy to actually wait upon nature, whereby weekend warriors like myself are usually too preoccupied with activity or are too quickly passing through to appreciate the actual life-rhythm of the place I’m in. Perhaps just as jogging to one’s workspace kills two birds with one stone – daily commute and exercise – outdoor office can provide both a workspace and a fantastic, 8-hour long forest bath.

In any case, and whether the Big Green Outdoor Office Trend is on its way or not, you know where I’ll be. Care to join?


Photos: Johanna Eidse-Fraenkel

Jonathan Fraenkel-Eidse
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