Why Workers Should Go Take A Hike
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Why Workers Should Go Take A Hike

The ability to be outside is a powerful argument for a hybrid workplace. It can improve well-being, as well as productivity, research shows.

By Anthony C. Klotz
Wed, Jul 13, 2022 3:35pmGrey Clock 3 min

I was recently speaking with one of my former students about the decisions that leaders are facing as they bring employees back to the office on a full-time or hybrid basis. This student remarked that one overlooked benefit of working from home is that it gives employees the ability to access the outdoors during the workday.

He described how his remote workdays included moments in which he was able to go into his backyard and enjoy a nature break—something he could never do when he was in the office all the time. He said these outdoor respites left him feeling more refreshed than his indoor breaks.

His observations resonated with me, because they aligned with my own research about the intersection of the worlds of work and nature, and with the compelling evidence that exposure to nature provides myriad benefits to individuals—benefits that don’t stop when the workday begins.

The link to the current discussion about remote and hybrid work is obvious: Employees who hold jobs that are able to be made hybrid—namely office workers—are the same group of workers who often have limited access to nature during their workdays in sealed buildings. Moreover, given that these buildings are often located in urban areas, even when employees are able to get outside, the quality of their exposure to nature is often low, occurring alongside distractions that impede the enjoyment of nature, like traffic noise.

This is where flexible work comes in. When employees work from home, they can open their windows and breathe in fresh air. In between video calls, they can step outside and feel the breeze and hear birds. After lunch, they can take a walk to a nearby park, or work outdoors for a few hours. In short, in ways small and large, working remotely permits deeper immersion in nature compared with being in the office.

And this immersion matters. Contact with nature improves people’s moods, sharpens people’s cognitive abilities, makes them more cooperativereduces burnout and enhances employees’ productivity. By allowing workers more meaningful access to nature through flexible work schedules, leaders provide employees with a work arrangement that facilitates higher well-being and performance.

These nature-based benefits of flexible work for workers and organizations take on added value considering recent research has shown that exposure to nature outside of work hours can contribute to employee performance when they return to work. In one study, my co-authors and I provided evidence that to the extent that employees spent time outdoors before and after work, they were in better moods when they arrived at work, which fueled higher work effort later in the day. This suggests that contact with nature not only has the potential to enhance employees’ well-being and performance while they work remotely, but to also positively affects their feelings and behaviours when they return to the office.

Companies, of course, could also redesign their in-person workspaces to provide employees with deeper immersion in nature—something many companies are embracing by adding such things as windows that open, green spaces on rooftops, and hiking trails on corporate campuses. But such efforts, while valuable, are expensive. It is much less costly—and quicker—to incorporate remote work into employees’ schedules.

One final benefit of bringing employees into deeper contact with nature relates to organizational sustainability efforts. In particular, there is an emerging link between employees’ contact with nature and their subsequent engagement in sustainability-related behaviours. Research shows that when individuals come into contact with nature in a given week, they are more likely to engage in sustainability-related behaviours that may be in alignment with organizational sustainability goals when they get back indoors.

A couple of caveats are warranted. First, individuals differ in the extent to which they like the outdoors; investments in contact with nature will likely have little effect on employees who feel no connection to the natural world. In addition, however beneficial interactions with nature are, they can’t make up for serious job deficiencies in terms of things like fair pay and respectful treatment. It would ring hollow and backfire to tell overworked employees to simply go outdoors to avoid their impending burnout.

There are no one-size-fits-all answers when it comes to redesigning jobs in a postpandemic era. But when weighing the benefits of hybrid work and other flexible work arrangements, leaders shouldn’t forget part of the answer can be found just outside their doors.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: July 13, 2022.



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Should AI Have Access to Your Medical Records? What if It Can Save Many Lives?

We asked readers: Is it worth giving up some potential privacy if the public benefit could be great? Here’s what they said.

By DEMETRIA GALLEGOS
Tue, May 28, 2024 4 min

We’re constantly told that one of the potentially biggest benefits of artificial intelligence is in the area of health. By collecting large amounts of data, AI can create all sorts of drugs for diseases that have been resistant to treatment.

But the price of that could be that we have to share more of our medical information. After all, researchers can’t collect large amounts of data if people aren’t willing to part with that data.

We wanted to see where our readers stand on the balance of privacy versus public-health gains as part of our series on ethical dilemmas created by the advent of AI.

Here are the questions we posed…

AI may be able to discover new medical treatments if it can scan large volumes of health records. Should our personal health records be made available for this purpose, if it has the potential to improve or save millions of lives? How would we guard privacy in that case?

…and some of the answers we received. undefined

Rely on nonpartisan overseers

While my own recent experience with a data breach highlights the importance of robust data security, I recognise the potential for AI to revolutionise healthcare. To ensure privacy, I would be more comfortable if an independent, nonpartisan body—overseen by medical professionals, data-security experts, and citizen representatives—managed a secure database.

Anonymity cuts both ways

Yes. Simply sanitise the health records of any identifying information, which is quite doable. Although there is an argument to be made that AI may discover something that an individual needs or wants to know.

Executive-level oversight

I think we can make AI scanning of health records available with strict privacy controls. Create an AI-CEO position at medical facilities with extreme vetting of that individual before hiring them.

Well worth it

This actually sounds like a very GOOD use of AI. There are several methods for anonymising data which would allow for studies over massive cross-sections of the population without compromising individuals’ privacy. The AI would just be doing the same things meta-studies do now, only faster and maybe better.

Human touch

My concern is that the next generations of doctors will rely more heavily, maybe exclusively, on AI and lose the ability or even the desire to respect the art of medicine which demands one-on-one interaction with a patient for discussion and examination (already a dying skill).

Postmortem

People should be able to sign over rights to their complete “anonymised” health record upon death just as they can sign over rights to their organs. Waiting for death for such access does temporarily slow down the pace of such research, but ultimately will make the research better. Data sets will be more complete, too. Before signing over such rights, however, a person would have to be fully informed on how their relatives’ privacy may also be affected.

Pay me or make it free for all

As long as this is open-source and free, they can use my records. I have a problem with people using my data to make a profit without compensation.

Privacy above all

As a free society, we value freedoms and privacy, often over greater utilitarian benefits that could come. AI does not get any greater right to infringe on that liberty than anything else does.

Opt-in only

You should be able to opt in and choose a plan that protects your privacy.

Privacy doesn’t exist anyway

If it is decided to extend human lives indefinitely, then by all means, scan all health records. As for privacy, there is no such thing. All databases, once established, will eventually, if not immediately, be accessed or hacked by both the good and bad guys.

The data’s already out there

I think it should be made available. We already sign our rights for information over to large insurance companies. Making health records in the aggregate available for helping AI spot potential ways to improve medical care makes sense to me.

Overarching benefit

Of course they should be made available. Privacy is no serious concern when the benefits are so huge for so many.

Compensation for breakthroughs

We should be given the choice to release our records and compensated if our particular genome creates a pathway to treatment and medications.

Too risky

I like the idea of improving healthcare by accessing health records. However, as great as that potential is, the risks outweigh it. Access to the information would not be controlled. Too many would see personal opportunity in it for personal gain.

Nothing personal

The personal info should never be available to anyone who is not specifically authorised by the patient to have it. Medical information can be used to deny people employment or licenses!

No guarantee, but go ahead

This should be allowed on an anonymous basis, without question. But how to provide that anonymity?

Anonymously isolating the information is probably easy, but that information probably contains enough information to identify you if someone had access to the data and was strongly motivated. So the answer lies in restricting access to the raw data to trusted individuals.

Take my records, please

As a person with multiple medical conditions taking 28 medications a day, I highly endorse the use of my records. It is an area where I have found AI particularly valuable. With no medical educational background, I find it very helpful when AI describes in layman’s terms both my conditions and medications. In one instance, while interpreting a CT scan, AI noted a growth on my kidney that looked suspiciously like cancer and had not been disclosed to me by any of the four doctors examining the chart.

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