What Is Biophilic Office Design?

Office spaces can have an impact on employee health. Learn about how to bring biophilic design to your workplace to increase workers’ well-being.

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What Is Biophilic Office Design?

Here's what you need to know:

  • Biophilic office design entails bringing elements of nature into the workplace to help reduce employees’ stress levels
  • Studies found that workers in offices with daylight and natural greenery had increases in productivity and creativity
  • To bring biophilic office design into your workspace, opt for nature views if you can and use natural materials
  • Go with natural accent colors, bring in lots of plants, and maximize natural light in the office

When it comes to employee well-being, most people naturally think of things like benefits. From discounted gym memberships to flexible working hours, there are a few tried-and-true methods for boosting employee well-being. But what about office design?

Studies have shown that office design has a ton to do with our physical and mental health. A 2019 report on the long-term health of office workers found a few key places where office life impacts well-being.

First, the generally sedentary nature of office work can lead to muscle and nerve issues. Mentally, sitting too much and a lack of natural light in offices can lead to feelings of depression.

But what can we do about it? Offices simply are unnatural spaces and most modern work means sitting at a computer for nearly 8 hours a day. That’s just the way it is, right? Wrong.

There’s plenty that can be done to address the impact that office spaces have on employee well-being. Biophilic office design is 1 place to start.

Haven’t heard of biophilic office design before? Not sure how to start integrating biophilic office design into your unique workplace? Here’s a crash course on biophilic office design — what it is and how you can bring it to your business.

What is biophilic office design?

Let’s start with biophilia. As the Natural Resources Defense Council explains, biophilia is the innate human instinct and desire to connect with nature as well as other living entities. The word comes from the Greek words for life (bio) and affectionate love (philia).

So, as you might imagine, biophilic design means bringing in as many natural elements as possible. This means opting for wood and other natural construction materials while optimizing for maximum natural light.

Biophilic design means bringing in as many natural elements as possible.

Biophilic design also means plants, plants, plants. It’s all about bringing elements from the outdoors indoors in order to better satiate our natural need for connection with nature.

Finally, biophilic office design means deploying the principles of biophilic design in an office setting. Whether it’s a traditional office or a home office, we spend plenty of time in work settings.

We can spend those 40-some hours each week disconnected from nature in a fluorescent-lit, unnatural space. Or, we can spend that time much more connected with nature, which is what our bodies actually crave.

What are the benefits of biophilic office design?

There are some pretty serious benefits of biophilic office design, too. Architecture Now explains these myriad benefits in its publication on the global impact of biophilic design in the workplace. First, they write, “research has identified that visible connections to nature can have a positive effect on an individual’s reported stress levels.”

In contrast, unnatural urban environments have actually been linked to having a negative impact on human well-being. In France, “views of natural scenes such as greenery, wildlife, and even ocean views were linked to the greatest levels of wellbeing among office workers.” On the other hand, “window views of urban scenes such as roads and buildings were linked to a lower sense of wellbeing.”

Beyond employee well-being, it’s been shown that biophilic office design is linked to productivity. A study published earlier this summer compared the productivity levels of workers who were exposed to different levels of contact with nature.

They found that workers in offices with natural greenery saw a whopping 15% increase in productivity over the span of 3 months. This was in comparison to workers who lacked greenery or natural elements in their immediate work environment.

Through data analysis, Architecture Now reports that “for those working in environments that incorporate these natural elements, such as daylight and live plants, reported levels of creativity are 15% higher.” This is in comparison to those without those natural touches.

In a number of ways, biophilic office design can have a very positive impact on your office, the workers in it, and their outcomes.

How to bring biophilic office design into your workspace

If you’re sold on the benefits of biophilic office design, here’s what you can do to incorporate it into your workplace. Don’t worry if you have a particularly unnatural office space in the middle of a major city. There’s still plenty you can do on big and small scales.

Opt for nature views if you can

Of course, this only applies to companies that are currently on the hunt for office space. Or workers looking for a new coworking space or reconfiguring their home offices.

If there’s flexibility in your location, opt for a spot that has some kind of natural views if possible. This could be as simple as electing to have an office space that looks out over a river rather than a highway.

Use natural materials

If you’re able to do a renovation project, bring more natural elements into your office. Choose wood for construction or accents.

Maximize natural light with big windows and even sun tunnels and the like if you can. Consider cork for the floors or bamboo for walls. Stone is a great way to get a sturdy structure while maintaining a focus on natural elements.

Go with natural accent colors

As Architecture now notes, offices can boost their employees’ connection with nature by choosing “nature-resembling colors such as green, blue, and brown.” Try to stay away from gray if you can. The color has been linked to a negative impact on employees’ stress levels.

Bring in plants, plants, and more plants

From stuffing window sills with sun-loving cacti to hanging up some pothos or philodendron plants, this is an easy way to bring nature into any environment. Even if you have a poorly lit, low-light office, there are still plants that will work.

ZZ plants and snake plants can thrive with very little light and even some neglect. Once you start caring for plants, you learn more about them. The more you learn, the better you get at caring for them. The better you get at caring for them, the more varieties you can add into the mix.

Maximize natural light

If your office is low on windows, cubicles and other divisions will get in the way of everyone enjoying the sunlight. In these instances, open office layouts can go a long way. If you can, opt for privacy glass as separators when necessary.

Mirrors are a great way to make the most out of the light you do have. Skylights and sun tunnels are always an option. Make sure to roll up the blinds and pull back the curtains on the windows you do have to let the light shine in.

Finally, use full-spectrum natural light bulbs that mimic daylight instead of fluorescent ones. Yellow light is more natural than blue light.

What’s your biggest 2022 HR challenge that you’d like to resolve

Answer to see the results

What can make your office the healthiest it can be?

Any change, especially 1 that might stem from a new concept, can be intimidating. But remember, it’s OK to start small. Start with what makes the most sense and what is most accessible for your unique business.

Maybe you’re ready for a whole office makeover and you can make some big construction changes. Maybe margins are thin right now and all you can afford is a couple of plants. Either (and everything in between!) is OK.

The goal is to create the best and healthiest office you can for your employees. As long as that’s where you’re headed, you’re on the right track.

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