A Different Path for Thinking

The outdoors is becoming the new frontier of workplace collaboration

by John Scott

With so many design trends to focus on, the one that almost always gets overlooked is utilizing the outdoors to work and collaborate.

And before all you ‘realists’ jump up with snarled lips and yell, “Yeah, but we live in the upper Midwest where we only get 2 seasons…” hear me out.

Collaboration is generally defined as a process of working together toward common goals. Too often this is done inside of a box (a conference room), that fits inside another box (the workplace), and that fits even more neatly inside yet another box (the office building). These levels of constraint can be seen by some as The Seventh Circle of Hell, while others may use this time in meetings to check Facebook to stalk their former heartthrob.  In order to creatively develop solutions, strengthen a team bond, and reduce the stress in our work lives, there is just one thing that you need to do – go outside!

Offering an antidote for the technology-addicted, Harvard physician Eva M. Selhub, co-author of Your Brain on Nature, says spending time outdoors is like turning off the stress responses in your brain (and switching on the reward neurons) that allows the higher brain centers to be accessed, resulting in increased concentration, improved memory, greater creativity and productivity, and reduced mental fatigue.

Stepping outdoors to meet with your team or converse with a coworker has been shown to lower blood pressure, while activating creativity in the whole brain.  First, from a neurochemical perspective (for all of you neurologists out there), our brains are more relaxed when we spend time outdoors due to the release of certain chemicals.  According to neuroscientist  David Strayer, when the prefrontal cortex (the front of our melons) quiets down (by sitting or walking in nature), the brain’s default mode network (the back of our brains) kicks in, allowing the ‘flash of insight’ (the cartoon light bulb for an idea) to occur.  Aha!

Another interesting approach and growing trend to collaboration that involves greater wellness is the ‘walk and talk’, or the walking meeting.  Not all collaborative interactions are suitable for walking meetings (it would be difficult to continuously navigate a mobile whiteboard outside without running it into that poor squirrel who can’t make a decision), and not everyone can physically participate in these walking meetings, but for those interactions where colleagues are conferring on decisions or exploring possible solutions, this is a great alternative.

So instead of reaching for that 2:30pm energy drink that makes your hand look ginormous, push yourself away from that desk, grab a colleague, and head outside to collaborate!  Your brain, your body, and your colleague will thank you!


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