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What Is Biophilia And How Does It Affect The Workspace?

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One of the most exciting trends of our time is gaining momentum in workplace design, called biophilic office design.  Don’t be scared by its long name; ‘biophilia’ is basically just a single perfect word to describe how we as humans like nature and benefit from connecting with it. 

So then, what is biophilic office design? It’s giving your staff those hike-in-the-woods feelings by recreating a sense of the great outdoors in your workplace.  You use real pieces of nature in your everyday workplace. 

There’s no doubt that this is more than just a fad.  Companies like Google have embraced biophilia at an inspirational level.  Included are daylighting and plenty of visual connections to the outdoors, with windows and skylights, and solar tubes.  Other elements include giant fish tanks, nature-inspired carpets, and video walls that undulate patterns of nature.   Amazon’s new office in Seattle incorporates more than 40,000 plants of more than 400 varieties.

Why would I consider biophilic office design?

Even companies that don’t quite have the resource of Google and Amazon will want to sit up and take notice.  One recent study by Professor Alex Haslam at the University of Queensland’s School of Psychology concluded that an office enriched with plants boosted productivity by 15%.  That’s significant.

“So… how do I incorporate biophilic office design?”

It isn’t difficult once you have the idea, but you can’t just add a potted cactus and call it done. 

Access to natural light and views of the outside matter: natural light and the outdoors have a major impact on employee wellbeing, productivity, and energy levels.  Ideally, we would all be able to gaze at our own expanse of ocean or forest right outside our window. Still, even urban scenery has been proved to raise visual stimulation and imagination. So if you don’t have the luxury of a lot of windows, you might be able to maximize the ones you do have: trade the walls of traditional offices for an open floor plan that allows more staff to see outside.

But you don’t want to look outside; if possible, get outside for real.  Does your company have any outdoor space? Please make use of it! Arrange seating, tables, and electrical power so that when the weather is fine, staff can work outdoors.  This access to natural light and fresh air has so many benefits for your staff and you, as increased staff well-being will lead to decreased absenteeism and turnover.

You can literally bring outside in when you use natural features like wood and stone.   The natural variety of textures evokes images of the places they came from in the first place:  the forest, the mountain, the stream. 

This is an exciting time we live in, and I’m glad to see a likely increase in offices bringing great outdoors.  Looking forward, we can expect to see more living walls and waterfalls in the workplace, as more and more research is proving that the health and wellbeing of employees translates into health and wellbeing for employers.