One of my happy places

I recently started a contract for a couple of days a week with a UK interior landscaper to help with the launch of a new line of business. Most of my work is carried out from home, at my less than perfect home office set up (OK, it’s the dining table), but last week I needed to visit their premises.

It has been a while since I was last in an interior landscaper’s premises. Despite each company’s differences in set up and size, there is something quite special about walking into the plant storage and preparation area. All the plants stored and being prepared for new installations. Everything labelled and assigned to each plant technician for their weekly routes and racks of containers and sundries ready to be assembled into displays that bring life to commercial spaces.

There is also the atmosphere. There is no doubt that a space with thousands of healthy plants has a special feeling. There is the smell of compost and freshly-watered foliage. It is quiet – even when people are working, there is a sense of calm, and there is a sea of green. I have written before about the human eye’s ability to discern hundreds of different shades of green, and in locations like this, you will certainly many of them.

I spend most of my working life at a desk: writing about workspaces, writing about interior landscaping, joining video calls and meetings (that was my work pattern for years, even before the pandemic), so this trip out was a welcome chance to refocus.

350 shades of green

Over the last three months, as spring has turned to summer, and the weather in my corner of England has been spectacular, I have been acutely aware of how the landscape has been transformed by the colour green. The green things in the landscape have also changed, from the vibrant fresh shades of new foliage, to darker greens as leaves mature, or from the deep greens of cereal crops as they begin to ripen towards yellower shades and ultimately to golden brown.

The human eye is especially sensitive to green. The shades that we name as green fall right in the middle of the visible spectrum and extend from the citrusy yellow greens to minerally blue greens. I have been told that humans can distinguish as many as 350 shades of green (although that may be an artefact of language – how do we really define green, especially at the extremes of what might reasonably be described as green?)

How many shades of green?

Green is a hugely symbolic colour too. Pagan religions from all over the world have symbols, such as the Green Man of North European folklore. These often represent both the power of nature and its sustenance. Green is sometimes related to magic and the presence of spirits too.

There was even a time – within living memory – that green cars were regarded as unlucky (at least that is what my grandmother told me. She was aghast when my father bought a mint green car in the 1970s, but that might just have been a comment on his taste).

Rosslyn Chapel Green Man – photo by Johanne McInnes. (licence CC by 3.0)

More positively, green represents sustainability and environmental responsibility. Green also means progress. Green for go is the universal convention for traffic management and for a safe state of affairs.

All of this symbolism can be directly linked to the colour’s ubiquity, and that is also directly related to the life giving quality of a green pigment called chlorophyll, without which, no complex life on Earth would be possible. You can almost feel the force of life coursing through green spaces in nature.

Green workspaces

Workplaces have been given the green light to re-open as the worst of the pandemic eases. Some have taken the opportunity to go green: plants screens and moss walls are being specified to ensure physical distancing and aid with pedestrian traffic flow.

Other workplaces are embracing the environmental opportunities that are afforded by allowing more people to be home based (for part, or even all of the time), reducing commuting time, emissions and energy bills and being available for those that cannot work anywhere else, or for when face-to-face collaboration is unavoidable. This might even lead to a significant reduction in office space occupancy, as this article in the Guardian recently explained.

Some are looking to a more human-centred future. Instead of offices being a place to go for all work, they might be hubs for collaborative effort: occasional places that are both sociable and productive.

Workplace managers are going to have to consider whole new interactions of disciplines in the very near future: space, furniture, technology, connectivity, restoration and recuperation, and new approaches to managing people.  All will need repackaging to create work environments that people want to use.

Unfortunately, a large number of workplaces are doing their best to recreate the pre-pandemic state, but with perspex and cubicles. A look at some of the FM web sites and magazines shows just how uninspiring some of these places can be. High screens, often in shades of grey, blocking not just the view of a colleague, but preventing views of the broader interior landscape or even through a window. Such spaces are, no doubt, hygienic, but they are also emotionally sterile too.

Maybe, our new-found appreciation of nature and a greater understanding of how we, as animals, respond to the rhythms of the seasons can help us create better working environments as a result.  

In a fragile economy, those organizations willing to invest in creating more humane working cultures will be in the best place to attract and retain eager and talented people.  Fortunately, those investments need not be huge in terms of cash and capital, but instead may require taking a little time to learn and reflect on what has been learned.

If you would like more detailed advice on creating workspaces that are humane and effective, please get in touch.