The word biophilic means ‘love of nature’, and it’s an apt description for most human beings. As humans, we’re hard-wired to have a positive connection to our natural surroundings and we actually gain numerous benefits from just being around nature. Biophilic office design taps into this innate bond with nature by incorporating natural elements into workplaces and office spaces.
What is Biophilic Office Design?
Biophilic office design involves bringing the experience of the great outdoors into the workplace. This could include adding plants, water features, or natural elements like stone and wood. It could also involve creating outdoor areas where employees can gather and work or adding windows and skylights to increase the light inside. It could even include adding design elements that mimic colors, patterns, and images found in nature.
Although people have been using natural elements in design for centuries, the term biophilia was only coined in 1973 when psychoanalyst Erich Fromm first used it in his book The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. Biologist Edward O. Wilson popularized the concept with his book Biophilia, which was published in 1984, and later social ecologist Stephen Kellert would pioneer the concept as a design style that could be psychologically and physiologically beneficial.
How Biophilic Design Can Improve Workplace Wellbeing
While biophilic design can be very visually appealing, that’s not the only reason that many business owners are opting to incorporate natural elements into their office design. A growing body of research suggests that biophilic design can have a positive effect on employees, and by extension, businesses.
Most workers in Western countries spend the majority of their time indoors, and much of that is at the office. In fact, many workers spend just as much time in the office as they do in their own homes. Even during the pandemic when working from home was encouraged and even mandated, many professionals found themselves spending even more time inside in front of their computer screens or smartphones.
Spending long hours working inside can have a negative effect on health and well-being. Studies show that a lack of natural light can disrupt circadian rhythms. Detachment from the natural world can also exacerbate stress levels, lower energy levels, and lead to burnout. Research also shows that people can lose focus and motivation when working on tasks for prolonged periods of time without taking breaks, such as walks outdoors.
The good news is biophilic design can make a difference. A study from the University of Regina suggests that this design style can contribute to psychological restoration that decreases stress levels and mental fatigue. Another paper from Western Sydney University presents data indicating that biophilic design can boost productivity and workplace satisfaction.
The reason biophilic design is so effective is that it has the ability to stimulate all the senses including sight, smell, sound, and the feel of natural light on the skin. This triggers the innate feel-good connection that we have with nature and can boost mood, improve cognitive function, and even lower blood pressure.
How Biophilic Design Can Boost Business
Workplace stress and burnout can be hugely damaging to a business. Researchers report that in the U.S. alone, workplace stress can cost businesses from $125 billion to $190 billion a year. When employees are healthier, happier, and less stressed, they will be more motivated to do their jobs and able to work more efficiently. They will also be willing to stay longer in a pleasant office environment, which increases productivity and staff retention.
Another important factor that can’t be overlooked is the reluctance of many workers to head back to the office after prolonged periods of remote working. In the post-pandemic world, it is in a company’s best interest to provide an inviting workplace where employees feel as though their well-being is taken into consideration.
Easy Ways to Implement Biophilic Office Design into Everyday Workplaces
Not every business can provide employees with ample outdoor spaces, but there are a few ways you can implement biophilic design into the office to encourage and evoke a connection with nature.
- Add some greenery. One of the easiest ways to bring the outdoors inside is to add more plant life to the office. This could be in the form of potted plants, shrubs, and trees, vertical gardens along the walls, or even the addition of plants outside the windows where they can be seen from the inside. Plants are not only visually appealing, but they can also improve the air quality.
- Let more natural light in. Human beings need natural light to help maintain circadian rhythms. By adding a few extra windows or skylights, you can brighten the entire atmosphere of the office and help your employees get better sleep so that they come into work feeling rested and more energetic. If renovations aren’t an option, try removing blinds, drapes, and cubicle partitions or facing office furniture towards the windows.
- Use wood and stone elements. Natural elements like wood and stone are not only visually appealing, they also offer a tactile element to the workplace. Both wood and stone can create a sense of comfort and warmth, as well as interesting textures that bring to mind time spent outdoors. Various types of wood also emit natural aromas that can encourage the release of serotonin.
- Incorporate water features. The sound of running water has the ability to induce relaxation, which can lead to a less stressful workplace. Water features don’t have to be large, expensive installations. They can be as simple as an aquarium, a subtle recording playing in the lobby or break room, or a small desktop fountain.
- Utilize calming natural colors. If you can’t bring nature inside, you can allude to it by using natural colors in the office. A green wall can bring to mind forests and fields. Soothing creams, tans, and browns can evoke sand and wood. Various shades of blue can depict water and the ocean. Just try to avoid colors that are too bright, as they can be jarring and disruptive.
- Consider using nature-inspired aromas. Scent is one of the most powerful senses for triggering memories. By using olfactory elements in the office, you may be able to create strong connections to nature. The easiest way to do this is to open the windows and allow fresh air to flow in. You can also use air filters to help clean the indoor air or add fresh flowers and plants to add natural scents.
- Play with patterns found in nature. Sometimes all it takes to evoke nature is a pattern or texture that mimics something you would find in nature. Look for office furniture and artworks that have textures or contours that reflect geology and ecology. You can also add patterned paneling, wallpaper, or dividers.
More businesses are now implementing biophilic office design because of the numerous benefits it can have for employees and the business as a whole. By making just a few small changes to your office furniture, workplace set-up, and decor, you can draw on people’s inherent connection to nature and change the atmosphere in your workplace into a more positive, energetic, and focused environment. This will help your current staff to do their jobs better and encourage them to stay with the business longer. In addition, it can also help entice new talent to join your team.
About Connie Glover
Connie Glover has over 20 years experience working with leading educators & space designers. She specialises in creating agile work and learning spaces that maximise productivity, boost learning outcomes and promote innovation.
She is currently working as General Manager of Product & Market Development at BFX Furniture.