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Is Biophilic Office Design the Key to the Big Return to Work?

While office work has returned, it isn't quite as it was before the pandemic. Understandably, some circumstances have forced people to work from home full-time, but this suggests that employees are becoming accustomed to working remotely. In light of this slow recovery back to pre-pandemic normalcy, more and more companies are focusing on health and wellness in the workplace.

As a result, biophilic design has gained popularity, with employers wanting nature and the great outdoors to be a part of their office spaces – and for a good reason! Biophilia refers to the instinctive bond that humans have with nature. Biophilic design incorporates this bond into homes, shops, recreational spaces and of course, working spaces.

So, in-depth, what is biophilic office design and what are its benefits? And how it can be incorporated strategically into progressive office designs to appeal to returning office workers and retain staff amidst the ongoing labor shortages and challenges. Let's take a look at how it might work.

What is Biophilic Office Design?

Biophilic office design aims to integrate the natural world into the office-built environment. The idea behind biophilic office design is that incorporating lots of greenery into the building can help make employees happier and improve their productivity. Moreover, it allows companies to attract employees who want to work in an environment that feels like home.

There are both direct and indirect ways to incorporate the experience of nature in biophilic office design. Integrating nature directly into a building involves using all its elements. A moving water source, a plant or animal, or natural light may contribute to the process based on the environment. At the same time, the method of indirect incorporation involves mimicking nature without using natural resources. Natural images, organic shapes, or colors of nature are examples of this.

The Benefits of Biophilic Office Design

Biophilic design of offices offers a wide range of advantages to companies and employees alike. Let's take a closer look at each of these.

Enhancing focus: Office plants can range in size and style, but they all have the same effect – they increase oxygen levels in the workplace, thereby decreasing mental fatigue and improving concentration, as well as overall focus. It has been reported that dealing with nature and naturally-occurring elements reduces stress, improves attention spans, assists mental restoration, and overcomes attention deficit disorders.

Improved physical health: Pandemic confinement hasn't just affected employees' mental health but also their physical health; after the emergence of COVID-19, companies have become increasingly aware of their employees' physical health. To combat infectious disease transmission, high-quality air filters and ventilation systems have become increasingly important since the pandemic began. Plant life, however, can naturally absorb pollutants, toxins, and bacteria from the air and provide a solution to this workplace problem. Aside from protecting from airborne viruses, biophilic design can benefit workers in many ways.

Increased productivity: Another benefit of biophilic office design is increased productivity, as evidence shows that Biophilia enhances an employees’ and therefore, an organization's performance. In a UK study, university researchers assessed two groups of office workers' productivity levels based on their level of exposure to nature. Within three months, employees who worked in offices with natural greenery experienced a 15% increase in productivity compared to those without greenery.

Besides providing a stimulating work environment through artwork, wall art and graphics, thoughtful use of greenery, color, natural light, and natural finishes is believed to foster creativity.

Recruiting and retaining employees: The pandemic has caused a lot of uncertainty and upheaval for employers, so they are focusing on nurturing their existing talent and attracting top candidates. One of the most crucial factors in acquiring and retaining talent is an office's design, which speaks volumes about the company's commitment to its employees’ wellbeing. Consequently, it should come as no doubt that employees would much prefer a natural, minimalistic and calming space over a lifeless one.

Don’t take our word for it - a Human Spaces survey of 7,600 office workers across 16 countries found that one-third (33%) would cite office design as a key factor in deciding whether to work for a company.

How to Incorporate Biophilic Office Design in the Workplace

Here are some great ideas for creating a harmonious and beautiful workspace.

  • Grow a green wall: You can add biophilic design to your office by utilizing green walls or living walls. Living walls can be eye-catching and impressive when they cover an entire wall. Alternatively, hang vertical planters on the walls if this is not feasible or outside of your budget.

  • Let the natural light in: Let your office be filled with natural light. It is best to choose a building with large windows. Otherwise, work within the confines of what you have. Remove old clunky curtains, blinds, large tables, and cabinets obstructing light. If you arrange the furniture cleverly in an open-plan office, daylight will flow more naturally and expansively through the office than if it is arranged against it.

  • Try out different textures: Introduce different textures and shapes to the office so as not to create the same effect as is found in many older office buildings. Introducing natural elements does not require a complete renovation of the space. A simple receptionist's desk, for instance, could have a wavy shape and be made of various wood panels.

  • Build green pathways and places with potted plants: The biophilic design emphasizes abundant greenery. One of the easiest and most elegant ways to introduce nature into the workplace is with planters. However, placing pots in isolated or singular will likely not contribute to a biophilic environment. Greenery should be arranged holistically - use planters to frame pathways, line walls, or create little islands of plants which will create a sense of calm and respite in the space.

  • Improve the quality of the air: In biophilic design, the air movement simulates a natural environment, which is crucial for the health of employees and customers. If you want to improve air quality in your office, try using air filters, opening up the ventilation between indoors and outside and ensure that you have plenty of plants.

  • Include water features: The addition of water to an indoor design is another element that contributes to Biophilia. It is possible to use a fountain, for example, to bring serenity and calm to a hectic office environment. The sound of flowing water brings balance to a workplace, and it is such an integral part of life.

  • Choose natural materials: Choose natural materials over synthetic materials when furnishing the office so that shapes, patterns, and textures from nature can be incorporated. Instead of plastic tables or faux-leather upholstery, go for sustainable wooden tables or natural and recycled materials.

  • Build effective meeting rooms: A high-functioning company requires effective meetings. The typical dark, beige-walled rooms with a central table and no natural light are not conducive to employees wanting to spend much time in them, nor good for holding productive meetings. Furthermore, noise can be a distraction to a group of workers trying to accomplish a task in a poorly soundproofed room and will be off putting to colleagues outside of the room. Companies are leaning towards each and every meeting room providing a unique and inspiring environment for workers and visitors to the office.

  • Establish a safe environment: A biophilic office environment helps employees feel comfortable and at ease. The right arrangement of hardscapes and green spaces, such as planters, can provide a sense of refuge. It is possible to divide large spaces quickly and effectively with linear planters, creating both a private workspace and a relaxing retreat. During the day, employees need time to destress after a long day's work. Biophilic office design promotes relaxation and helps employees recover as quickly as possible.

Some Innovative Examples of Biophilic Office Design Around the World

There is no doubt that biophilic design is one of the most relevant trends in modern office design, benefitting both landlords and tenants. Numerous scientific research studies support the effectiveness of this design theory and this is why key industry players, including architects, interior designers, and top global organizations, continuously support it.

McCann Erickson, New York

By positioning desks to catch natural light and maximizing how many workers can view the outside, Tom Dixon's design for McCann Erickson's New York office incorporates biophilic design while bringing in natural textures. The office uses materials such as wood furniture, copper lighting and glass to reflect its natural surroundings.

Fosbury & Dons, Belgium

This biophilic office was reborn from a former cathedral in Antwerp, Belgium, that was reconstructed from the ground up and rebuilt as an aesthetic marvel.

A main, open plan workspace is illuminated by large windows that reach six meters in height. Those windows face King Albert Park, an ideal view in sustainable building standards like LEED and WELL for its relaxing powers on anxiety-ridden, stressed-out employees. Incorporating areas for collaboration, productivity, and relaxation makes this an inviting, versatile office design.

Uncommon's Liverpool Street Office, The City

The office is designed to reduce stress and increase efficiency. There are layers of bronze and gold waves swirling around the office bar, making it appear like a glossy, sedimentary rock. Desks are wooden with curved lines and round lamps atop them, providing soothing ambient lighting.

With lemongrass scented stairwells, the sensory experience is further enhanced. There is no doubt that this workspace adheres to multiple biophilic principles by providing several places for quiet time and refuge.

The Argyll Club's Nova, North Victoria

Besides its roof terrace, the Nova North building at The Argyll Club has a green wall bridging the gap between its workspace and its surroundings.

Meeting rooms and breakout spaces are adorned with bouquets of flowers in deep green shades. Under curved, textured seating around small breakout tables, rugs in sand colors provide a calming effect.

Shui on WorkX, Shanghai

Shui On WorkX's Shanghai office visibly oozes Biophilia as soon as you walk in the front door. The large sun design illuminates a sidewalk otherwise drab with plants and a welcoming corridor. A large building in the heart of Shanghai's industrialized, busy streets is filled with biophilic design.

The reception stands out from the ceiling in a curvilinear, organic form. There is a palette of greens, tans, and stone grays used throughout the rooms and large windows allow natural light to pour into the space. The light makes it possible for the vegetation to flourish. In addition to small house plants, there are entire living trees and moss floors in the office.

Biophilic Design More Than Just Greenery

Biophilic office design is not just a passing trend. Instead, it's an indication of what's to come in terms of returning to work and transforming the workplace. The concept of biophilic design is synonymous with health and the environment and is likely to become more popular in the next few years due to the obvious benefits of embracing nature in the workplace.

The biophilic movement has also gained traction in Canada because it is contributing to a higher level of employee recruitment and retention. Canadian commercial real estate investors, building owners, and landlords can benefit greatly from incorporating these concepts into their buildings. But, it's more than just adding lots of greenery, there are a lot of ways to use office design that aligns with human nature and the inclination to be close to the great outdoors. Real estate professionals can advise on how to incorporate biophilic design into workplaces to maximize its benefits - reach out to PCG for more information.


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