Biophilic office design has become a huge trend in workplace design in recent years. But what does it mean and what are the benefits of embracing biophilic principles to your office? Here’s our guide on everything you need to know about all things biophilic.
A term popularised by American psychologist Edward O Wilson in the 1980s, Biophilia means ‘the love of nature’ which focuses on our innate attraction to nature, its natural processes and environments.
However, despite our inherent need to be close to nature and the outdoors, the way we conduct our working lives is dissonant to the sheer volume of hours we spend confined within the four walls of our offices.
That’s where biophilic office design comes in. To help bridge the gap between outside space and the office workplace. The spectacle of green walls, preserved moss and natural wood and stone finishes are helping people reconnect with nature in the workplace.
However, biophilic office design stems far beyond adding a few plants to the business environment. Statistical evidence is rapidly emerging, which suggests that a biophilic design in the workplace can improve productivity, workplace culture, reduce absenteeism and boost concentration levels.
In this blog, we will explore biophilic office design, detailing why it’s relevant today, its benefits and how biophilic elements are implemented in the office space.
Why Is Biophilic Office Design Relevant?
In the 200,000 years that humans have walked the earth, we’ve enjoyed an inherent connection with the outside world. But this has gradually eroded over time, particularly in the last 40 years, with more of our time spent at home or in the office. Indeed, on average, we will spend 72% of our lives either working, sleeping, or watching television.
Biophilic office design is relevant now, more than ever, as it’s helping us to combat this disconnection. Whilst there are a growing number of early-adopting businesses testing out the four day week - reducing work hours to improve productivity - most UK workers do their contracted work hours as a bare minimum. Workplace designers have understood that to keep employees engaged at work, we need to reconnect them with the feeling we get when we’re outside, in the open.
Chris Alldred, design director at K2 Space in London, said: “a common misconception is that biophilic design translates to adding lots of plant life and shrubbery; it is far more complex than that.”
Office spaces are now designed to bring the outside in. They’re putting us back in touch with nature through plants, water features, artificial lighting and natural finishes on walls, roofs and floors. Desks are designed to be closer to windows where people are exposed to external views of nature and natural light.
Increasingly, as we spend more time indoors and away from the natural world, exposure to nature and its aesthetic environment has never been more important than it is today.
Interface, carpet and flooring specialists, had this to say about the value of biophilic design in their work:
“At Interface we are passionate about making sure that the spaces where people work, live and play have a positive impact on both them and the planet. Most of us spend a huge amount of our time inside, so it’s absolutely vital that buildings, and the products used to create them, help to bring out the best in people.
On the surface of it, the link between flooring and wellbeing might not be obvious, but we believe the two are intrinsically linked. We are advocates of biophilic design, the innovative approach to harnessing our affinity with nature through interior and architectural design. This inherent connection to the natural world is proven to have positive effects on our overall health and wellbeing.
Choosing Interface products such as Human Connections, Human Nature or our latest carpet tile collection Ice Breaker not only mean you can create beautifully designed spaces, but also those which incorporate the natural cues we seek in our fast-paced lives.”
Laura Light, Concept Design Team Leader UKIME at:
Key Benefits of Biophilic Office Design
In our efforts to reconnect people with nature and change how we experience the space around us, biophilic office design presents a host of benefits that impact both employer and employee.
Backed by growing research, let’s explore the key benefits of biophilic office design to understand why more and more organisations are adopting the human need to affiliate with life.
The World Health Organisation expects stress-related illness, mental health disorders and cardiovascular disease to be the two largest contributors to disease by 2020. Unsurprisingly, with our diminishing connection to nature and increased technological presence, we have less time to recuperate our mental and physical energy.
Today, many businesses are increasingly focused on improving the health and wellbeing of their employees. Biophilic office design offers a strategy to support employee’s health and wellbeing by helping with stress reduction and rates of well-being up by 13%. Biophilic office design promotes a healthier habitat for humans where the environment actually has positive, physical effects on our bodies.
Busy offices can result in stressful and chaotic environments for employees which often causes human bodies to engage in a ‘fight-or-flight’ mindset. Human interaction with nature provides an increase of sympathetic activity which can result in decreased levels of stress.
One study published by the Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research found that those workers who had views of trees generally reported less career-orientated stress in the workplace than those without.
According to Oliver Heath Design, biophilic office design increases productivity by 8% with increased rates of learning topped out at a staggering 20-25%. As previously mentioned before, this increased productivity has proven to improve test results and concentration levels in employees.
Major employers like Amazon have bought into the concept of biophilic office design adding features such as glass-domed greenhouses and live large-potted plants and smaller potted-plants in their companies headquarters to improve better air quality and ventilation. Their headquarters houses 40,000 plants from 300 species.
Oliver Heath Design further demonstrates how the presence of vegetation and landscaping has been found to increase average rental rates on retail spaces with customers indicating they were willing to pay 8-12% more for goods and services.
An attractive workspace, one that is thoughtfully designed, can attract and retain the best talent. It can send a powerful message about your office’s social conscience and green-credibility. According to biophilic design experts, Human Space, natured-inspired materials and elements can help create a more positive working environment. A series of studies from Exeter University found that workspaces filled with just a few house plants improved employee productivity by 15%.
Enhanced Mood and Creativity
Coinciding with productivity, biophilic office design can promote enhanced moods in employees and spur creativity throughout the workday.
Plant-rich environments have many positive qualities that are often not found in a typical office setting. According to Harvard, green-certified offices reduce employee sick days by 30%.
Innerspace Cheshire, an organisation committed to finding solutions that are good for people and the planet, are experts in bringing designers together with authentic, easy to use, materials for design. Managing Director, Ian Lamb, had this to add:
“We believe passionately that biophilic design has many benefits to a workplace environment, both to an employee and employer… Evoking a sense of the beauty in nature, biophilic design can help improve air quality, assist with acoustics, increase productivity, but most importantly, put a smile on your face.”
- Ian Lamb, Managing Director, Innerspace Cheshire
Compromise of the Outdoors
Controversially, whilst biophilic design is vital in the office space, it’s important that people do not lose sight of the fact that it is still a compromise from actually being outside and surrounded in nature.
A recent survey of 1,000 office workers, commissioned by Ambius, found that 35% don't get more than 15 minutes of outdoor time during a typical workday, with an additional 13% able to stretch their daily time in outdoor environments to 30 minutes.
According to the 2018 Work and the Outdoors Survey, conducted by clothing retailer, LL Bean, while 87% of indoor workers consider themselves to be someone that enjoys the outdoors, 75% rarely or never take the time to work outside.
Businesses have opportunities to exercise external space available to them such as courtyards, central atriums or even car parks where 3-4 spaces can be sacrificed and transformed into social spaces. This offers employees an area to relax with downtime from their day at work.
So, remember, the true meaning of biophilia doesn’t simply involve bringing the outside in. It’s all about immersing your employees in the natural environment, which often means taking them outside.
The introduction of natural elements to the office workspace presents unparallelled opportunities for employers to benefit from healthier environments considered critical to our physical and mental health and overall well-being.
This trend will continue to inspire innovatively-designed biophilic office spaces that inhabit a consistently physiological and psychological impact on employees. Perhaps biophilic office design is the best-kept secret of a great workplace.
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