Is nature the answer to creating a productive workforce?

Is nature the answer to creating a productive workforce?

Monique Holtman

Monique Holtman
2nd July 2018

If you’ve ever wondered why you feel so much better after spending time in the great outdoors, you’re not alone. Scientists are in fact so intrigued by the effect that nature has on us, they’ve been working hard to find out the answer.

One particular study carried out at Stanford University in the U.S. found that a 50-minute walk in a city park not only boosted people’s moods, it also improved their memory and attention to detail. A 90-minute walk yielded such powerful changes to the brain that it’s thought that it could even help to protect against depression.

With us Brits working increasingly long hours, spending more time in front of electronic devices, trying to juggle growing workloads and then unsurprisingly, feeling more stressed than ever before, biophilia has been hitting the headlines in a big way.  

If you haven’t already heard this term, you’ll become very familiar with it in the near future.

Biophilia is linked to the notion that we have an intuitive and deeply ingrained attraction to nature and a biological need for contact with the natural world. It’s a concept that’s making a huge impact on interior design and architecture – especially when it comes to the workplace.

What are the benefits of a biophilic office?

Amazon’s Seattle headquarters houses a whopping 40,000 plants. Every other floor in Samsung’s San Jose office is a garden. Facebook HQ has its very own rooftop park. Do their CEOs have a penchant for all things green or is there a very good reason why nature is a common theme here? Moreover, is it any coincidence that these are some of the most successful companies in the world?

Any space with an abundance of plant life is going to look fantastic. The benefits of a green office extend far beyond just being aesthetically pleasing, however.

A recent study from Harvard University revealed that design plays a huge role in our professional life and can even continue to improve wellbeing when we get home. Green-certified offices were found to boost cognition by 26% and benefit from 30% fewer sickness-related absences. What’s more, the study’s participants also reported a 6% increase in their sleep quality.

Why exactly does incorporating more green into an office provide so many benefits to workers however?

  • Plants increase oxygen levels and improve air quality. In turn, this decreases mental fatigue and improves concentration levels and overall productivity.
  • Being surrounded by nature creates a more stimulating workplace which allows creativity to flourish.
  • Researchers have found that when asked to imagine a place we feel calm and relaxed, more than 90% of us picture a natural setting.
  • Because natural surroundings create such a great working environment, this is a fantastic way to retain staff and attract new employees. It can even help to set you apart from the competition when it comes to hiring. If a candidate is torn between two different roles for example, chances are they will end up choosing the company with the funky office.
  • As well as taking in carbon dioxide, plants also absorb any toxins which may be present in the air. Research shows that complaints of minor ailments such as coughing, blocked sinuses, headaches, skin irritations and dry throats decrease by an average of 25% when there are plants indoors.
  • Another magical ability of plants is that leaf surfaces are great at absorbing noises – making plant-filled offices quieter and calmer places.
  • One of the greatest benefits of plants, especially for SMEs and those who are self-employed, is that they’re an inexpensive way to brighten the place up. What’s more, as you’re introducing your plant displays, there is little if any disruption to the everyday running of your business.

How to incorporate biophilic design into your office

With so many benefits to be enjoyed from working in a green space, introducing this concept to your office is a no-brainer. What if you don’t have Facebook’s interior design budget or you work from home so an extravagant office space isn’t an option? Below we have listed some great ways to incorporate biophilic design simply and cost-effectively.

Decorate with lots of plants

The most simple and inexpensive way to bring nature into your workplace is with plants and flowers. Not only does this add a more natural and welcoming feel to the place, it can also help to reduce the symptoms which so commonly go around the workplace including headaches, coughing and a general feeling of being unwell.

Why exactly is this? Plants reduce dust, mould and CO2 levels which can all make us feel pretty rubbish. Because they also increase oxygen levels, plants can help to improve concentration levels and decrease mental fatigue.

If you’re worried about the upkeep of real plants, believe it or not, even fake plants can produce the biophilic effect. Although they won’t be able to improve air quality, artificial plants can still be beneficial to your employees’ health. Even just seeing natural landscapes (such as a view from an office window or a picture on the wall) can improve mood and concentration.

If you want to get really creative with your design, you can also use artificial plants to create living walls just like Zoopla has done in their London office.

Greendesk space

Image source: 

Embrace natural daylight

Bright artificial lighting may be commonplace in the average office but that doesn’t mean it’s the best option for your workplace. It can actually have a very negative effect on our wellbeing as harsh fluorescent lighting can cause eye strains and headaches. Studies have also found that employees who work in artificial light tend to feel more tired at the end of the working day.

The best part about making the most out of your office’s natural light is that it’s completely free. It can in fact even save money as your energy bills will more than likely go down.

Simply make sure that windows aren’t fully covered by blinds or curtains and that employees’ desks are faced towards the windows, rather than away from them.

Skylights can also be installed to bring more daylight into the office by turning the ceiling into a great source of light.

The beautiful office below is the Ljubljana Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Slovenia. Here, the designers created a winter garden with panoramic views of the city. The glass-encased indoor garden has an abundance of natural light, greenery and views of the outside world – everything you need for a great working environment.

Greendesk meeting room

Opt for natural colour schemes and shapes

One of the key components of biophilic design is the utilisation of natural shapes and colours.

When it comes to your colour scheme, opt for earthy tones such as greens, browns, golds and tans as well as blues and white to mimic the sea, sky and clouds.

With regards to patterns and shapes of the furniture used in your office, go for organic (irregular) shapes over geometric ones, as the latter are man-made and unnatural.

Incorporate wood, stone and granite

Including these natural features and textures can help to mimic the outdoors. Try using natural materials such as wood, stone, granite, cork and marble in your design wherever you can.

Each of these materials can be incorporated as finishes on the likes of pillars, shelving, cupboards and desks. These are great alternatives to simple landscape prints and allow you to bring nature into the workplace without taking up too much floor space – perfect for smaller offices or for those who work from home.

Maximise outdoor views

This studio in Madrid was created by architects, Selgas Cano and they have quite literally immersed their employees into a woodland setting. The semi-submerged structure offers almost complete views of the outside world and maximises the amount of natural light which filters into the office.

A hinged opening at one end of the office allows for natural ventilation while the ground offers heat insulation from the high summer temperatures, preventing the need for air conditioning.

Despite being located on the outskirts of the bustling city, this office space encourages contact with nature because employees have to walk through the woods to gain access to the building and they can see outside all day long.

Outdoor office space

Make the most of any outdoor space you have

If you’re fortunate enough to have an outdoor space such as a roof, balcony or garden, make sure you’re taking advantage of this. Add some comfortable seating and tables so staff can work outdoors when the weather permits because this access to natural light and fresh air can provide countless benefits including increased productivity, creativity and wellbeing.

Chances are you can’t compete with Facebook’s whopping nine-acre roof garden but it’s a fantastic example of how you can utilise the outdoor space you have available to you.

Green office

Image source: 

One thing for certain is that you can expect to hear a lot more about biophilic office design in the coming years. As the benefits of embracing nature in the workplace becomes increasingly difficult to ignore, even SMEs are likely to follow in the footsteps of the giant tech companies which are already embracing this trend. Happy designing!