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Productivity Starts with the Brain
I had the idea of holding our CartaNova Web Design meetings outdoors in August 2009 after watching this interview with molecular biologist John Medina (which features him exercising on a treadmill and reading at the same time). Even when following faddish, but benign, productivity techniques like the Pomodoro Technique and Getting Things Done most of us work in offices surrounded by information technology - cell phones, smart phones, and the web. The problem is that these technologies enable multi-tasking and, for most of us, multi-tasking isn't productive.
Medina suggests that exercise almost immediately improves cognition and reasoning - key benefits for anyone riding a desk and computer in information technology and other skilled industries.
At CartaNova, we also agree with 37Signals that "Meetings are Toxic." They can be a huge time waste, easily drift off-subject, and usually involve little direct problem-solving. At the same time, all organizations require some sort of social experience and abstract planning element, especially ours, as we don’t share a common office space.
We were in need of a meeting space where we could focus on long- and medium-term planning free of normal distractions. What better place than our local nature trails here in Hamilton, Ontario (aka. The City of Waterfalls)?
Green Space is a Healthy Space
There's a second component of this practice too: most modern offices and meeting rooms, well, suck. Whether it's Michael Scott or Dilbert, the plight of the cubicle-bound office worker is well-documented.
Conversely, recent studies have shown the benefits of Green Space to be invaluable for individuals, contributing to lowering stress, improving concentration, and even relative economic health. In North America, workers put in more hours than any other industrialized country, yet measure up quite poorly in terms of health and productivity. Clearly, our economic structure is at odds with our exhausted, deadline-driven biology and what we do and where we are for most of the day is part of that disconnect.
Rather than an obligatory start-of-the-day warm up (which I think I would hate), a quick immersal in Green Space is something that almost any individual can enjoy.
Authenticity and Relevance is Good Marketing
We're an ecofriendly web design firm. We work with Renewable Energy companies, Green Businesses, and environmentally-friendly not-for-profit organizations. I'm proud to say that we've helped a lot of innovative green companies to grow. However, if we're spending all day inside, programming and talking on the phone, then we’re disconnected from our local ecosystems - what's the point in that?>> Visit AuthenticityBook.com
I'm the son of an outdoorsman and master-level naturalist and the local environment matters to me and everyone else here at CartaNova. Further, we're not "In Business to Be in Business" – and that might actually be good for business.
Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want (Harvard Business School) details a movement in consumer behaviour towards “authenticity” as the key factor in consumer product choices. Whether the marketing involves a heavily staged consumer experience like Starbucks, Vimeo (an “artsy” video-sharing site owned jointly with CollegeHumour.com) or is more transparent (like our friends at the LUNA Project provide), companies increasingly find profit in connecting their customers to the “real” experience of their brand.
Relevance has been the basis of Social Media Marketing for some time - and part of the important pushback against it. Connecting your customers to your brand via Twitter or Facebook makes you “more relevant” and “more real” if done well. If not, you're just another company wasting everyone else's precious time with useless contests and marketing-spam. The worst thing you can do in social media is to be inauthentic to your core customers.
Being an ethical company, I believe that CartaNova is at its best when demonstrating our involvement in clean energy and green technologies. Blogging and sharing our photostream from our outdoor meetings is one more way to do that.
The last benefit I'm seeing to this "Green Space" approach to business meetings is local interest. Aside from getting to know your area a little better, this is a great way to engage more with your local customers by being a bit REMARKable.
One of the surprising things we've found is how well traditional industries respond to how we meet internally. We're now opening up our meetings to our clients for the first time because they want to join us!
Larger organizations can easily make a clean-up event out of a local walk - in almost any place in North America, the local ecology will benefit, workers will ultimately be more focused, less prone to attention-errors, and, of course in this type of scenario, team building wins. The key here for larger organizations is keeping things totally voluntary: no-one, nature lover or otherwise, enjoys a forced hike or canned "HR" experiences.
Going Outside? Let us know!
I've just started a new Flickr Photo Stream called "Green Space Meetings" (http://www.flickr.com/groups/greenspace) and I'd love to see if any companies are already doing this or are wanting to try it out. The Flickr Group is public - just join and add your photos! Alternatively, connect with us @cartanovadesign on Twitter and use the hash tag #GreenMeeting to share your experience.
See you out there!
Editor’s note: Eco-Oriented Small Businesses may also want to check our free sustainable business model templates – they’ve become quite popular.