Online meetings have become as routine as getting dressed in the morning for many of us. There’s no denying their convenience and how smart digital technologies have crucially kept businesses moving during this crisis.
It’s possible that despite the obvious benefits, we may be sacrificing important human connection and even productivity in the process.
In a bid to encourage businesses to disconnect for a day in order to reconnect with each other, Nature and Nosh’s Kylie Rae has taken the conventional meeting room and cast it in an unconventional setting – in the middle of a forest on a mountain.
The ‘Bush Boardroom’ is an open-air meeting space nestled under a native canopy at Maungatautari and has been playing host to local businesses for strategy meetings, planning days and team building out in nature.
“So far the teams we’ve hosted have loved the concept. Especially the idea of disconnecting from ‘it’ all. Away from Wi-Fi, reception and screens in general is where the magic happens and a chance for real connection without distraction.” says Rae.
“I think we are all completely fed up with all the online meetings and craving fresh air and eye-contact.”
It’s a sentiment that’s backed by research, with face-to-face meetings allowing for clearer communication as people are able to access non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, body language and inflection much easier.
Adding a natural setting to a face-to-face meeting hugely boosts the benefits, Rae says, with other studies showing how being in nature lowers stress-inducing cortisol levels, improves mood, clears ‘head noise’ and has even been shown to improve creative thinking.
The idea for the Bush Boardroom germinated from a walking meeting in the bush with Rae’s husband.
“We spend a lot of time tramping in the bush and both being business owners we often talk about the challenges we face, or come up with new ideas while walking in nature,” Rae says.
“We found our thoughts just organised themselves more clearly when hiking, and most of the time we wouldn’t even have to try too hard, the inspiration would just hit
“The first Covid outbreak saw us taking a lot of long bush walks,” says Rae. “Like many other businesses, we were faced with having to innovate to survive. It was a really tough time and to be honest, it’s still really tough with the ongoing uncertainty.”
Predominately taking international visitors on hiking tours around the Waikato and Coromandel, at the end of 2020 the couple decided to sidestep into the corporate market with their new concept.
“Sanctuary Mountain Manugatautari was the ideal setting for us, being a prime example of pristine native bush here in the Waikato with a thriving conservation programme,” says Rae.
Working together, they were able to turn their vision into a reality, carefully placing the Bush Boardroom in a secret spot in the Southern Enclosure.
“The best part of this all is that we are able to financially contribute to the work of the Sanctuary Mountain team through the businesses that come out and book a Bush Boardroom package,” says Rae.
Owen Embling, Managing Director at Convex, a packing solutions company based out of Hamilton took the team outside of four-walls for the day to brainstorm some new creative and sustainable packaging solutions.
“Our day at the Bush Boardroom was the catalyst to bring us out of the office to connect with the forest, re-connect with each other and eliminate the need for our phones even for a small amount of time,” says Embling.
“Over the day, the team found our creativity and could feel ourselves slowing down and finding more vigour in our thinking processes. This pandemic has been challenging for us all in so many ways, so it was rewarding to be able to come together, eliminate the clutter and constant interruptions that our busy lives offer and focus clearly on solving problems for our customers in new ways.”
Not only do these in-person meetings in nature promote connection, they also tend to be more productive, generating more ideas than a virtual or in-office meeting.
Nature and Nosh’s packages at the Bush Boardroom can include mindful hikes, which are a really effective way to prime your brain for a meeting or planning session and are taken at a gentle pace, Rae says.
Survival team building activities, wild food foraging, ancient forest tours and glowworm kayaking on the nearby Lake Karapiro are also part of the offerings.
Christmas packages are new this year for small teams of 8-16 people looking for something a little different and a way to give back locally.
“The maunga is a true taonga on our doorstep, I don’t think many people realise the sheer scale of the sanctuary, and the work it takes to maintain and keep it thriving,” Rae says.
With a 47km long pest-proof fence enclosing 3400 hectares of protected native bush, it’s one of the largest mainland ecological island’s in the world.
“We’ve seen a wide range of companies from the Waikato, Tauranga, Taupo and Auckland enjoy bringing their teams outside with us from a cross section of industries including construction, education, consulting, manufacturing and technology,” Rae says.
“It’s refreshing to see businesses embrace a new concept, it gives me hope they are seeing real bottom-line value in some tech-free time, away from their highly pressured, fast-paced environments.”
There are loads of programmes out there and plenty of retreats offering yoga, smoothies and saunas, says Rae, but she insists that the key to a true reset and creativity lies in nature.
“There’s a lot nature can teach us about dealing with stress and uncertainty, it starts with perspective and slowing down to tune into your thoughts.”
“After this last delta outbreak, I hope business owners and managers recognise their teams may be suffering from zoom burn-out and craving some nature time more than ever.”
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