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VIA slips outside: 
"A change many employees are positive about"

Article by Ida Stahl & Freja Valla Broman

VIA's campus in Skejby, Aarhus is located in a large industrial park, where there is not much nature. At least VIA's employees were convinced of that until last year they were introduced to the surrounding nature by their colleague Elsemarie Petersen, who is a lecturer and consultant at VIA University College.

Elsemarie Petersen started the project "VIA slips out" in collaboration with her colleague, Caroline Ahlgren Tøttrup, who, like herself, is passionate about more sustainable working days. The aim of the project was to get VIA's employees to take more work tasks outside and show their colleagues that nature can be found everywhere - even in a larger city like Aarhus. 
"Most of my colleagues have thought that there is no shadow of nature here in our area. But it just doesn't fit. I took my colleagues to the nearby parks, where we talked about internal sustainability and balance in working life. I asked them how often during their eight and ten years of employment they had been to the parks. For most, the answer was never,” says Elsemarie Petersen. 


As part of the project, Elsemarie Petersen and Caroline Ahlgren Tøttrup have had several hundred employees outside in VIA's surrounding areas. Among other things, they have held a presentation for a working environment conference, where they had more than 200 employees with them outside. They repeated this success at a development day attended by more than a hundred employees. To motivate further, the two colleagues are developing two inspiration kits; one targeting the managers and another targeting the teachers. The two kits must contain information about why it is good to go outside and how managers and teachers can move more work out into nature.  

More nature in everyday life

Elsemarie Petersen works on a daily basis with management and sustainability. Her motivation to start the project was to find out how the working day can embrace more nature and outdoor time, without it having to demand too much. She is the type to go ahead and make sure that she and her colleagues get more time outside. Therefore, on her own initiative, she has started to start some of her meetings with a walk, and she has been allowed to hold staff meetings in the open. In this way, she shows her colleagues that there are actually parks and nature in VIA's immediate area, and that it is easy to move your meetings out into the fresh air.
"My colleagues and I sometimes start our meetings with a walk of maybe half an hour, where we talk through some topics. When we are back at the office, we sit down at the computer. "Suddenly we've had a walk, 5,000 steps, some air and come through the door happy and have got at least as good a product, I dare say," she says.


The walks around VIA not only contribute to a good mood and oxygen to the brain among the colleagues. Elsemarie Petersen also experienced a positive effect at one of her development meetings, which was held outside.


"On one of the walks I went on, we were a vice-chancellor, an associate professor and an HR consultant. We went from being our differences to being three people who are passionate about bringing more nature into the working day. Walks like these can reduce the differences a little and give a little more space to be people together," says Elsemarie Petersen.


The leaders of the future are moving out

As a lecturer at VIA, Elsemarie Petersen wanted to share her good experiences with the students. In his teaching about how management can be more sustainable, the students were therefore allowed to feel on their own bodies and brains what it does when a meeting or a teaching session moves outside. And it got a good response. Fresh air and the change in traditional teaching did wonders for the students' understanding and creativity. Here, Elsemarie Petersen says that the students particularly emphasized that it gave the reflections a new perspective, as the ceiling is higher outside.


"The students said that it gave more energy and different perspectives to the dialogue than if they had been in the classroom. The students think it was great to feel on their own bodies how being in nature made a difference," she says.

Positive feedback
It requires commitment and persistence to create change, but with two zealots, like Elsemarie Petersen and Caroline Ahlgren Tøttrup, the initiative spreads like ripples in the other offices at VIA. However, they are still in the process of learning, where they have to find out how they can best inspire their colleagues to go outside, as well as create an overview of which work tasks are good to take out.


The project has already received a lot of positive feedback from both VIA's employees and students. According to Elsemarie Petersen, people are curious to get new good ideas to take work tasks outside and generally seem committed to the project about a more sustainable working life.


"People ask about how to get outside more and express a desire to get out, even if it's new to them. My impression is that a great many people miss more nature in their everyday life and are happy at the thought of more nature in the working day. It's a change our employees are positive about," she says.


In the coming months, VIA offers four inspirational tours in VIA's immediate area, two of which focus on taking administrative tasks out, and two of which focus on how teaching can be taken out.

The colleagues at VIA continue to have good ideas for future initiatives and Elsemarie Petersen plans to continue to inspire not only colleagues, but also future managers. She looks forward to learning together with her colleagues, gaining insight into what works for whom and spreading the good ideas and experiences to several parts of the organisation.

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