In the big picture of human history, we’ve got it pretty good these days. Unlike our Stone Age ancestors, we sleep in warm beds rather than cold caves. We hunt and gather at grocery stores rather than chasing down wooly mammoth with a spear or harvesting fruit and veggies from a makeshift farm.
And while we may never need to flee from prehistoric predators, our simplified modern lifestyle presents other challenges to our wellbeing.
Enter the Paleo craze, which has people emulating the lifestyle of our ancestors who lived during the Paleolithic Period. Spanning from around 2.6 million years ago until about 12,000 years ago, the people of this period worked in small tribal “bands” and led active, outdoorsy lifestyles. This craze has now extended to the office.
Here’s how it works.
What is the Paleo Craze?
The idea of “going Paleo” began as embracing a diet that emulates the eating habits of the prehistoric human – swapping out processed, carbohydrate-rich foods for a high-protein, high-fiber diet.
The Paleo craze started as a dietary choice based on a healthier lifestyle but for some enthusiasts embracing, it has grown to encompass even more aspects of the caveman lifestyle – from barefoot running, swapping mattresses for hammocks or sleeping on the ground, intermittent fasting and even donating blood to simulate being wounded.
The concept has even broadened its applications to the place where we spend most of our waking hours – the office.
What is the Paleo Office?
Cavemen had an unimaginably hard lifestyle. But to ensure that humans still have a few challenges to face, evolution threw us a curveball: the sedentary lifestyle.
As it turns out, long work hours, high-stress levels, open plan buildings and sitting at our desks for long periods of time are detrimental to our health. They also happen to be commonplace in today’s offices.
Paleo die-hards would argue that, while technology and culture are evolving rapidly, our bodies are not – and that humans are essentially hunter-gatherers displaced in a world of massive global businesses and long hours.
To help soften the blow, the Paleo office incorporates small changes that make an environment more conducive to human biology in order to maximize efficiency and productivity and create happier, healthier employees.
Team Size is Key in the Paleo Office
Larger teams arguably accomplish a higher volume of work due to sheer manpower. But is has been proven that individuals in smaller teams actually perform better. This could be because of our tendency to agree with everything our colleagues say in bigger groups or because smaller teams offer more intimate support.
But there’s another factor in this equation that’s rooted in our biology and our psychology.
Maintaining personal relationships is mentally tolling. According to a theory known as Dunbar’s Number, we have the ability to maintain a finite number of social relationships – 150 to be specific. This has proven historically true in multiple cultures across countless eras. Even today, 150 is the average size of military companies and academic circles.
This number is rooted in our biology, limited by the size of our brains and has been consistent for nearly a quarter of a million years since we first lived in tribal groups.
In the Paleo office, a limit of 150 staff might create happier and healthier workspaces because it would mean everyone who works at that office will have some sort of personal connection, in turn eliminating some of the hierarchical divides that hinder communication and silos and creating a culture of accountability and dependability.
The Positive Effects of Nature
Our ancestors spent the majority of their lives outdoors and active. In modern times we spend at least 40 hours per week indoors – and that’s only at the office.
But there’s something to be said for the effects of nature on our mental and emotional wellbeing.
Biophilic design – an approach which incorporates natural materials, natural light, vegetation, nature views and other experiences of the natural world into the modern built environment – has been proven to boost efficiency, productivity, health, and wellbeing.
The Paleo office leverages biophilic design to embrace our biological connection with nature to create happier, healthier employees.
Movement Must Be a Priority
As hunters and gatherers, we were constantly on the move. Our bodies were our tools to attain the necessities for our survival.
This still holds true today, albeit with vastly different means of attaining those necessities.
Rather than running, hunting and foraging for sustenance, these days we go to work, earn money and pay for the things we need. But our bodies are still meant to move.
That’s why the idea of a Paleo office encourages movement at all costs. Sedentary offices drain employees’ energy levels and increase risks to health. Today, “low fat” office buildings encourage physical activity through office design like centerpiece staircases and hard-to-find elevators. Even standing desks and walking meetings are beginning to take off in popularity.
We don’t need to revert to loincloths, start hunting our dinner with spears or creating fire by hand to stay warm. But if the Paleo craze has anything to say about it, embracing our inner caveman can help create a better work environment.