“Essentially, the places where we work should be just as important as the places we live” (CBRE, 2020).
The current lockdown has raised lots of questions about the future of the workplace and how it may change going forward. At Square Mile Farms we believe in the enduring importance of the office. For us, the current situation, with Covid-19 keeping us all at home, has just highlighted this further, although it’s also raised some of the issues with office working that we want to help solve! While there are some pros to working from home, it’s hard to replicate the benefits of face-to-face interaction with colleagues at the office.
We think that when we go back to work, our relationships with our workplaces will inevitably change. Having seen that we can get certain tasks done effectively at home (without the commute), we’ll want a good reason to go to the office. So offices should be worth going to! They should be centres of engagement and learning, fostering effective collaboration between colleagues and supporting employee health and wellbeing.
For us, office farming represents a unique opportunity to contribute to employee wellbeing, both mental and physical, it can improve the office environment, boost employee engagement and contribute to a wider sustainability strategy.
We install live farm-walls and other productive spaces for these very reasons. Alongside our installations we offer a suite of activities including seminars and workshops to get people away from their desks, interacting and picking up advice on living a sustainable, healthy lifestyle.
The world of work is changing
So why do offices need to adapt? Increasingly, employees are demanding more from their employers, and companies need to meet these demands to successfully compete for talent. An agreeable salary is only one of the factors we’re considering when we decide where we want to work. Company culture, workplace experience, the desire to be part of a community and an emphasis on teamwork are just a few of the factors key players, such as property consultancy company CBRE and management consultancy firm PWC, have identified as determinants for prospective employees.
Reasons to invest in wellness programmes
There are also direct financial reasons to invest in wellness programmes, such as office farming. The costs of lost productivity and staff turnover due to ill-health (both mental and physical) are significant. The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health estimates that in the UK 175 million working days are lost yearly due to sickness absence, 40% of which are attributable to mental health. The cost to employers of mental ill-health is estimated to be almost £26 billion each year.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) have found that wellbeing activities can lower sickness absence, improve employee morale and engagement and contribute to a healthier and more inclusive culture. Clearly, investing in employee wellbeing is essential both for employee health and the financial health of the company.
How can office farming help?
At Square Mile Farms we offer a unique, holistic employee strategy based around office farming. We install live walls and other productive spaces, growing herbs and greens. But it’s not just about making offices green, it’s about adapting office culture to reflect the issues that are important to the modern employee.
Alongside our office farms, we offer additional services including workshops and seminars on topics such as nutrition, sustainable living and urban farming to enable workers to take away skills that are applicable to their daily lives and address questions like ‘how can I grow my own fresh produce at home?’, or ‘why is it important that we grow fresh produce locally?’. Let’s look more in depth at the key benefits of office farming.
Employee mental health
Many of us struggle with stress, anxiety or other mental health issues, and working life can sometimes exacerbate these. Given that we spend a significant amount of our time at work, it seems obvious that we should be adapting offices to ease stress and anxiety where possible. Urban farming can help because natural environments have restorative qualities, enabling the body to recover from stress (Keefe and Jenkins, 2017).
We all need to take breaks during the work day, to let our minds relax and reset, which is why we build activities around the office farm - imagine incorporating some plant nurturing or harvesting into your coffee break! Working with plants, or ‘green exercise’ has also been shown to have mental health benefits by improving mood and self-esteem.
Helping employees make healthy choices
Being healthy isn’t always easy, especially when we’re busy at work. Office farming can help us to make healthy choices by providing fresh and nutritious greens and herbs at work. Harvesting from the office farm to your plate can take mere minutes, meaning the produce is at its nutritional peak. This is important because the nutritional value of food depletes significantly after it is harvested and transported as shown by Food Chemistry.
But more than this, office farming helps create a culture of healthy living. By providing opportunities to learn through our workshops, seminars and personalised nutritional advice from our Nutritional Therapist, we help put health and wellbeing at the centre of the workplace.
Gone are the days of the boring office, all sorts of things are cropping up, from ping pong tables to nap pods. Office farming is both engaging and useful. A live wall is aesthetically pleasing and office greenery has been shown to have significant benefits for our happiness and our productivity levels (Nieuwenhuis et al., 2014). Our walls go one step further, they’re edible! We make office green space productive, giving it new value.
Our farm walls are engaging and interactive, designed to start conversations and inspire employees. Office farming isn’t just about producing fresh veg, it’s also about creating opportunities for engagement, interaction and learning. Our seminars and workshops offer endless opportunities for informal catch-ups between colleagues. We all know the importance of effective collaboration at work, but we have to build those relationships: office farming offers lots of opportunities for team-building.
Bringing food production to population centres helps us to make our food supply chain more resilient to shock and crisis, something that we've recently seen the importance of. We use vertical, hydroponic farming techniques to grow efficiently in urban settings all year round. Growing in the workplace also helps to bring issues with the current food system to the forefront: we're on a mission to re-engage London's workers with the food they eat. You can read more about why we think urban farming can help save the planet here.
Square Mile Farms bring vertical, urban farming to city dwellers in their homes and in the workplace. We aim to bring people closer to food production and help to create a culture of healthy, sustainable living. Find out more about our offering and get in touch here with any queries. Sign up to our newsletter for tips on a healthy lifestyle and a round-up of relevant news. You can also follow us on social media to stay up to date with our journey, find us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Why not join our online Urban Growing Community for advice on growing at home and much more!
Barton J. & Pretty, J., ‘What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis’, Environmental Science and Technology, 44:10, (2010).
Beaudoin, L and Marshall, S., ‘It’s not just an office, it’s an experience’, CBRE.
CIPD, Health and Wellbeing at Work, (CIPD, London: 2018)
Dewhirst, R., et al.,‘Novel insights into ascorbate retention and degradation’, Food Chemistry, 233 (2017), 237-246.
Keeffe,G. & Jenkins A., ‘The Integration of Urban Agriculture and the Socio-Economic Landscape of Future Cities’, in L. Brotas, S. Roaf, & F. Nicol (Eds.), Design to Thrive: PLEA Proceedings, (NCEUB, Edinburgh: 2017), Vol. 3.
Nieuwenhuis, M., et al., ‘The relative benefits of green versus lean office space: Three field experiments’ Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 20:3, (2014). 199–214.
PWC, PWC’s NextGen: A Global Generational Study, (2013).
The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, ‘Mental Health at Work: Developing the Business Case’, (December 2007). p.1., referenced in C. Cooper & P. Dewe, ‘Well-being—absenteeism, presenteeism, costs and challenges’, Occupational Medicine, 58:8, (December, 2008), p. 522.