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Outdoor Office Work Benefits Mind and Soul, But Leaves a Guilty Conscience, Study Claims

The authors of the study described the COVID-19 pandemic as a chance for change in the relation between work and space, noting that working outdoors was found to contribute to well-being, recovery, improved cognition and better social relationships, as well as better job-related conversations.

There are big advantages for office workers in moving their work outside, a study performed by Malmö University has found.

The purpose of the study carried out in collaboration with the City of Malmö and the European Social Fund was to explore the potential of a more sustainable and innovative work-life by challenging prevailing norms around work that is usually conducted indoors. In the project, 58 participants have tried and evaluated different forms of work outdoors. Data were collected via interviews, group discussions and a tailored mobile app.

“It’s about expanding the norm of what is possible and what is desired”, researcher Charlotte Petterson Troije of the Department of Urban Studies at Malmö University explained to Swedish Radio.

Working outdoors was found to contribute to well-being, recovery, improved cognition and better social relationships, as well as better job-related conversations.

Office work

Even before the pandemic, work could in some cases be carried out outside the office, but the pandemic led to a spike in remote work. According to researcher Charlotte Petersson Troije, many types of jobs can be performed outdoors, even for office workers, such as meetings, reading and thinking.

However, outside work also brings forth feelings of guilt, which the researchers explained were the result of the rigid norms surrounding the work environment.

“Even when we start school, we learn the importance of sitting still and concentrating. It does not suit everyone. There is an awareness of this in school, but we do not talk much about it in relation to adults and work,” Charlotte Petersson Troije told the scientific news portal Forskning.se. “There are deep-seated norms about work and how it should be performed. Many people feel guilty if they work out in the sun.”

Petersson Troije described the COVID-19 pandemic as a chance for change in the relationship between work and space.

The study emphasised the importance of managers’ attitudes and organisational culture, as well as access to a suitable physical environment, in close proximity to the workplace, such as a courtyard, a park and walk-friendly paths.

The findings were summarised in the paper “Outdoor Office Work – An Interactive Research Project Showing the Way Out” published in Frontiers in Psychology.

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