Biophilic design: the best kept secret of a great workplace

Workplace environments impact how we feel, perform and interact with others. That is why focusing on spaces that support the well-being, creativity and productivity of employees has become a global imperative. People’s connection to nature – biophilia – is an emerging field that can help organizations meet that challenge.

What is biophilic design?

Biophilia as a concept, first popularized by Edward O. Wilson in 1984, describes the innate relationship between humans and nature, and the basic human need of continuously being connected to a natural environment. As a response, biophilic design works to enhance the individual’s connection with nature in the environment in which we live and work every day.

Why the concept of biophilic workplace design is gaining importance

Based on a review of more than 50 empirical studies, it has been concluded that an environment devoid of nature can have a negative effect on health and well-being. Environmental psychology research tells us that being connected to nature is, in fact, an adaptive human function that allows for, and supports, psychological restoration.

This means that within the office walls, bringing in elements that allow connection to nature via interior design using natural elements, nature-resembling colors and patterns, indoor plants and views of greenery can help us mentally recover and provide respite from our day-to-day activities, to maintain positive well-being.

47% of employees lack natural light

A recent study conducted by Human Spaces found that employees are conscious about what they want and need from their work environment, as 33% of the study respondents responded that the design of an office affects their decision whether or not to work for a company.

Despite the employees needs and wants, the reality is different.

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Factually, a huge 47% of workers report that they have no natural light within their work environment – even though natural light was the number one requested element in the workplace. Similarly, elements representative of the natural world, such as indoor plants and natural colors like green, blue and brown, also made the top five. Yet 58% of workers report having no greenery, in the form of plants, within their work environment.

This suggests there is a clear disparity between the workers’ preferences and consciousness when it comes to natural elements within the workplace and the reality they find themselves in, where a great number of businesses fail to provide their workers with the connection to nature they require.

How biophilia impacts the workplace

In addition to surveying workers about the presence of natural elements in the workplace, Human Space also asked people to report on their emotional state at various points throughout the day.

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The results were clear.  Workers entering natural environments are much happier and inspired. In contrast, workers who do not have greenery within their work environment feel more anxious or even bored when they enter the workplace.

Similar research has identified that visible connections to nature can have a positive effect on an individual’s stress levels, and the perception of well-being can increase by up to 15% when people work in surroundings that incorporate natural elements and provide the connection to nature that both is desired and needed. Sitting by a window, being exposed to natural light whilst working has proved to have similar impacts on workers. An American research in an office of 90 people found that workers who had a window, that afforded a view of a nature scene, recovered low-levels of stress at much quicker rate than those who only had a view of a blank wall. Perhaps not surprisingly, natural lightning also had a huge impact on sickness absence rates.

Biophilia improves productivity

A UK study called The relative benefits of green versus learn office space: Three field experiments showed universal links between productivity and office design. The researchers compared the levels of productivity of two groups of office workers who were exposed to different levels of natural contact. The findings were that those who worked in offices with natural greenery saw a 15% rise in productivity over a three-month period, in comparison to those working with no greenery or natural elements within their immediate environment.

For organizations with ambitions to lead their market and compete for the most valuable employees, biophilic workplace design can create a remarkable opportunity to improve the employee well-being, productivity and strengthen the overall competitive advantage.

Learn more about Biophilic Design at Work. Download the Human Space report: The impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace and read our blog post: How corporate wellness can boost productivity.