NatureBreak is a service to support employees at an organisational level to take time out to explore nature and receive social support when working from home.Improving wellbeing, adopting a healthier lifestyle and more productive working through an organic combination of work and rest.

Ziwei Liu
Huizi Zhang
Deepu James
Supported by Replenish Earth
Future of Work - New Methods of Remote Working
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, working from home and stress have captured everyone's attention. Over the past year, with stress and negative feelings arising frequently, we have finally realised that working from home is not all we thought it would be. But with the flexibility and affordability of remote working, more and more organisations are choosing to embrace this new trend in the long term. No matter what people think, there will never be a return to an entirely offline working pattern. The world has been changed. How we can adapt people to new working patterns and protect their well-being is the urgent issue of the day.
Current Remote Experience

According to our research, company employees are more than three times as likely to report poor mental health now, compared to before the pandemic.56% of the reasons given are due to feeling stress and anxiety. In 2020, 79% of working adults in the UK commonly experienced work-related stress. This is 20% higher than 2018 survey results.It is widely believed that the pandemic is responsible for this phenomenon.However, remote working makes a significant contribution to this because of a number of its features.First, it lacks structure and boundaries: when and where you work is blurred.And there are too many distractions, you are living with family and roommates, have a dog in the yard and cars passing through. Even new emails and messages will interrupt your working. In the meantime, it's hard to deal with social isolation. Since everyone has different schedules, it becomes so hard to meet people in person.And different roles are always overlapping each other, so it is hard to focus on only one of them as a long-term strategy.When you interact with technology, such as your computer or smartphone, it can also generate extra stress. With all of this, people are easy to expose to stress all day long. And suffer from chronic stress.

“Have you been out?”

People strive to protect the resources they already have (such as current levels of working performance) and delay gaining potential and long-term benefits (eg. improving wellbeing). Most people are aware of the benefits of being in nature and the stress they suffered from not being in it. In order to measure people‘s capability to coping with stress, we defined a key element as frequency of going outside to relax in greenspaces.Unsurprisingly, our questionnaires, interviews and workshops show that people work more hours, go out less often, and generally experience increased stress when working remotely.They were shocked when we presented them with their ratios of work to personal life based on their experiences. While everyone knew they were probably spending more time at work, no one expected it would be quite so much.But most interestingly, one participant commented: "I am not 100% sure about this visual chart, what if I put more energy on life, rather than work? that must be super awkward especially if I need to expose it to my colleagues."

This is not only a matter of wellbeing, but also of culture.

We realised that it wasn't just a matter of wellbeing and stress, it is in a large part an issue about the culture and structural mindsets of society.People are encouraged and incentivised to work more. Hard working is definitely a good thing, but focusing on life would sound weird coming from you colleagues or manager. This may not be as much of a problem when there is a physical separation between the office and home. But when people work remotely, the lack of transparency and boundaries can make it seem like everyone is available 24-hours a day. Thus, people can feel guilty when they try to ignore work emails outside of office hours.However, the most competitive advantage of every organisation is people. It is the productivity level of employees that matters, not the number of hours they work.To reduce the huge cost of employee stress, organisations need to engage first and foremost through prioritising the overall wellbeing of their employees, listening and responding their true needs. Instead of handing out countless stress measurement questionnaires and offering thousands of yoga and meditation classes.From here, employees will be empowered to change their mindsets, have positive behavioural changes and organically combine rest and work to improve both health and productivity.

A flexible and human-centered service from an organisation level

To address this challenge, 81 people contributed and through four rounds of iteration, we developed NatureBreak through co-creation with potential users of our service. A 3rd party, flexible and human-centered service partner with muiltiple organisations. Specifically this was focussed on urban residents, due to the lack of chances to access nature which causes higher levels of stress.Flexibility with working hours:The organisations we work with will offer their employees a certain number of hours of "natural leave" during working hours (e.g. three hours per week). We will help employees organise fulfilling and relaxing green space experiences by finding nearby green spaces and matching them with suitable activities based on location information.Optional and confidential:Employees will have a right to decide whether or not to participate. They can then flexibly fit this into their work schedule and optionally make it public to our platform for other colleagues to see, or keep it completely private. No data will be transmitted to the employer, except for the parts that the user chooses to make public (such as outing schedules).Offline experiences and socialisation:We will be working with the experts at Green Care to provide content on yoga, meditation, walking, mindfulness and more for greenfield events.Through our calendars, colleagues can join each other's schedules, meet offline and enjoy nature together, experience activities and release work stress.The act of sharing experiences is encouraged and colleagues can see each other's photos of their green space outings. This can open up dialogue and nudge people to go out at the same time, as well as helping the organisation to focus on employee wellbeing through anonymous Data.

Feedback and Next steps

We conducted a pilot over four days in a small group of four people.At the end of the day, we had in-depth interviews with each participant.Overall, they enjoyed themselves and appreciated the feeling given that it was a good way to feel human.All but one of the participants had already made going out a daily routine, and all had increased the frequency of their outings.And most importantly, it led to more opportunities for communication, usually after sharing photos, and people started chatting about things which were not limited to the Greenbelt experience. After four days, it was clear that everyone knew more about each other and were getting closer, somewhat less socially isolated.These results were of great interest to two HRs and one entrepreneur we spoke to.ImplementTo better access users, we will launch and promote our service with organisation with a 2-weeks free trial and offline events, to help users onboard our service and app.Besides that, we will have a marketing website to measure the achievement, and attract more organisations.Future planFor a long-term strategy, we have 3 stages. Stage 1:Partnership with an organisation (RCA), running the service.Stage 2: Partnership with more companies to make the paring function stronger. This function allows users to be matched with employees from other companies near their homes.Stage 3: Partnership with a park landlord, to activate more services and help them manage the park better, and generate better experiences.

special thanks

Special thanks to Qian Sun, our tutor who supported, encouraged and was  with us all the time with a high level of professionalism. Dr.Tia, a reliable partner who always gives us some extra wisdom.

All the members in mental health research studios who kindly helped us develop the project through peer reviews.

And a huge thanks to all the people who participant the interview, co-creation, workshop and prototype. We can't make this project without your trust and help.

students involved on the project

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