When yoga teachers and meditation experts started showing up to run workshops for staff at companies like Google, people thought it was just another example of Silicon Valley eccentricity. But now it looks like these companies were on to something big. The wellness movement has passed “quirky California trend” status and is influencing huge changes in how we think about workspaces.
An environment that puts the priority on people over profits is more than just a perk nowadays, it’s becoming a baseline requirement. We’re not just talking fancy furniture and craft beer vending machines. We’re talking about environments that are engineered to keep us healthy and happy, spaces that keep us feeling comfortable and energised. After all, is there anyone who feels productive in a cheerless cubicle surrounded by depressing industrial colours?
A fresh solution to better and happier work environments
This revolution in workspaces has influenced almost every detail. You’ll see big windows that provide plenty of natural lighting to lower stress levels, and there’s been a mini-boom in intuitive apps that adjust temperatures for maximum comfort. Scent is important too: some offices even put out diffusers that pump out gusts of essential oils to enhance vitality and good vibes. Other workplaces schedule mindfulness classes, or even set up game areas with ping pong tables and dart boards.
But it’s really back to basics when it comes to one of the most important things you can do to create a healthier space: all you need to do is get in touch with nature. Nature has a healing effect on people, boosting our ability to recover from illness and helping us overcome negative feelings and stress.
That doesn’t mean that you have to grab your backpack and go wilderness camping just to destress. There’s a much simpler way to benefit from nature’s amazing healing power: spend more time around plants. A study by the University of Technology, Sydney found that a single plant in the room can have a huge impact on stress and anxiety . Want to concentrate better or calm an overactive mind? Spend some one-on-one time with an artsy Monstera fern or a trendy designer succulent. Office feels stuffy? Put out a few potted palms or money plants to remove toxins and inject fresh oxygen into your air. Hanging out with plants and trees can dose you with positive energy and power up your mental and physical well-being.
Urban farming: workplace greenery that nourishes your soul
With all of the great benefits that come from being close to plants and nature, some office buildings are taking it one step further by setting up urban farms on their terraces and rooftops.
With a little elbow grease, you can now bring home fresh, organic produce on the way home from work. Hong Kong’s climate will let you plant harvest perennials like Chinese chives and chilis year-round, and seasonal vegetables like okra during the summer, and choi sum, lettuce, and strawberries in the cooler months. And you don’t even need a green thumb to get the most out of urban farming: many urban farms come complete with all the equipment you need (planters, soil, tools, seedlings, and such) and expert guidance and maintenance by farm operators.
The upside of urban farming goes way beyond being able to cook food you’ve grown (granted, this is a pretty great upside). Research at the University of Bristol in London shows that getting your hands dirty with soil not only beefs up your immune system, but also gives you a nice bump of serotonin, the chemical that contributes to joy. It definitely gives you a new perspective on the saying “happier than a pig in mud”!
Gardening expert David Mordecai of Blooming City in Toronto has seen first-hand how beneficial gardening time can be. “There’s a kind of meditative feeling that comes over you when you’re working with plants. It’s very soothing to pull out weeds, water plants, prune leaves—these actions also engage your brain so I see a huge cognitive benefit there.”
But to David, the most underrated part of gardening is its sociability. “People underestimate the way gardening can bring people closer. You’re working closely with people in a relaxing environment where you are responsible for growing and nurturing a living thing. It’s a low-key and low-pressure way to get to know someone better and build trust with each other.”
When it comes to creating healthier work environments, it’s important to remember that it’s all for one and one for all. Wellness is a holistic process that needs to consider the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of the entire team. Whether it’s breathing workshops or digging into urban farming together, getting everyone involved helps create a lot of goodwill and appreciation, as well as a sense of ownership in your workspace. Wellness may not grow on trees, but it’ll flourish if you put down the right roots.
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