People spend an overwhelming amount of their time indoors. Numerous studies have concluded that we spend about 90 percent of our time indoors where the staff that do get to step out only immerse themselves for 15-30 minutes outdoors. With many Americans working on average 40 hours per week indoors, this adds up to a lot of time away from nature.
‘Biophilia’, a term coined by research biologist Edward O. Wilson, describes that human beings have an inherent need to connect with the natural environment. A later response to E. O. Wilson’s work led to biophilic design as a strategy to lessen the impact of separation by bringing natural elements indoors in a way that mimics outdoor environments. This trend has grown where biophilic design is becoming a norm in the contemporary office, rather than just a design style may become obsolete. Some designers are creating sub-trends out of the overarching biophilic language – essentially creating new design strategies while maintaining the desire to connect people to nature in the office space.
Studies have revealed that adding biophilic integrations to offices can increase productivity and reduce absenteeism, two factors that impact the bottom line due to the large portion of a company’s operating costs represented by human resources. Large employers like Amazon have connected their staff to nature by adding dramatic features like glass-domed greenhouses to their company headquarters. However, not all employers have the resources like Amazon and add glass-domed greenhouses to their office. The average company can achieve the benefits of biophilic design as well through less expensive means. Plants, integrated vegetative systems, wall coverings, and natural elements are the top choices for those with limitations of space and financial resources to connect their staff to nature.
Why Incorporate Biophilia into Office Spaces
Below is a list of other useful reasons to connect staff to nature:
Improved productivity to improve profitability: The study, ‘The Relative Benefits of Green versus Lean office Space’ found that staff with an exposed level of contact with nature were 15% more productive, compared to those with no contact. This can be due to good air quality, enhanced wellbeing, and improved concentration levels.
Increased concentration levels: Human connection nature in work environments is found to decrease attention fatigue and increase concentration levels, which in turn can increase productivity.
Creativity: Bringing nature indoors can create a stimulating workplace.
Staff wellbeing and retention: Connecting staff to nature can improve their wellbeing and happiness, which can have a real tangible impact on the bottom line as absenteeism falls and staff productivity increases. As staff wellbeing levels increase, so too does staff retention which many employees argue is important for building and strengthening their brand. Biophilic office design can help to engage staff and to provide them with a workplace where they enjoy being, and don’t want to leave.
Simple ways to incorporate Biophilia in the Office Space
As nature continues to move indoors, we have begun to implement innovative designs to counter the fact that some workplaces simply cannot provide views and the optimum amount of natural light to all staff. Below are simple strategies to incorporate biophilia in new office builds and existing office environments:
There are several surfaces in office spaces that can apply biophilic design strategies. Workspaces can include materials such as wood, stone, bamboo, rattan, wicker, and walls and floors with earth tones inspire imagery of natural scenes.
Allowing access to lighting that is natural or relates to temporal changes that change throughout the day can help users in the workplace stay alert while also promoting wellness. A lighting system that naturally or artificially changes in intensity, as well as color temperature, throughout the day to mimic our circadian rhythm helps better connect people to the outdoor environment..
Workstations that include biophilic materials and plants can compliment the overall spatial design. Furnishings that use natural materials and incorporate organic forms provide opportunities to the overarching biophilic design aesthetic.
Green walls allow plants to be brought into offices without losing valuable square footage. Green walls can be made of live plants, moss, and faux material to create a feature wall, to divide space, as well as to create a spatial sanctuary for people collaborating.
Typically, there is a constant level of temperature control in an air conditioned interior office space, yet studies have found that enhanced performance occurs when there is moderate variability in temperature and airflow. Airflow stimulation has been found to keep people more alert, also naturally improving focus and performance. In the office environment, this promotes productivity and continued attention endurance.
There are many opportunities to incorporate plants within a biophlic design work spaces. Plants can be accents to rooms, incorporated into walls, ceilings, furniture, and floors, but also utilized holistically where spatial experience is more representative of an indoor wilderness.
Biophilic design also considers patterns as shown in nature. Patterns can be that of fractal sequence, Fibonacci spirals, and organic patterns like that of a honeycomb. Patterns can be incorporated on walls, ceilings, surfaces, and floors in workspaces.