How Can Nature Play a Positive Role in the Office?
From lush vertical gardens to hydroponic balcony farms nature in many forms has been creeping into corporate office environments for several years now – and for good reason. It seems that introducing nature into the office has a significant positive impact on the occupants’ well-being. You could say it’s a growing movement. And the buzz term to know about is ‘biophilic design’.
Biophilia is human beings’ innate propensity to connect with nature. Biophilic design takes its cues from nature and has been shown to reduce stress, improve cognitive functioning, boost productivity and support creativity in the workplace.
As stay-at-home lockdown orders lift and workers transition back to the office, here are some elements of biophilic design that can be introduced to entice them away from the cosy comforts of their own home office and make it worthwhile to brave the daily commute again:
1. Organic shapes
Moving away from straight lines and right angles, workstations and other furnishings should be modelled after naturally occurring shapes.
2. Natural light and air
If possible, allow greater access to fresh air and natural light as well as access to outdoor break-out areas.
3. Create a diverse ecosystem
Provide employees with a range of work areas, from cosy alcoves to communal tables, that mirror the diversity of natural ecosystems.
4. Introduce living plants and water
From stunning green walls to planter boxes used as dividers, there are many ways to introduce a host of living plants into office spaces. Adding water features to add soothing natural sound is also beneficial.
5. Mimic nature
Many successful biophilic designs are inspired by natural settings without being exact replicas. Studies have shown that even indirectly referencing nature is beneficial, so focus on natural materials, nature-inspired artwork and murals and natural geometries.
6. Improve lighting
Provide a range of luminaires to give staff more control over light levels and introduce smart lighting that emits warmer hues and changes throughout the day to mimic natural circadian rhythms.
When done well, biophilic design should create a harmonious ecosystem that satisfies the human inclination to be close to nature and engenders an emotional attachment to space and place. Such attachments are said to motivate people’s performance and productivity and foster positive interactions and relationships among people. Effective biophilic design can enhance a sense of
membership in a meaningful community, while environmentally impoverished, entirely artificial settings can lead to fatigue, symptoms of disease and impaired performance.
Further evidence of the benefits of introducing nature into the office comes from studies of the ancient Japanese practice of forest bathing – the mindful practice of taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the forest. Commonly known in Japan as Shinrin yoku, the art of forest bathing has been gaining popularity across the globe for its amazing benefits.
Studies show that there are many physical and mental health benefits when you enjoy the art of forest bathing. And these impressive benefits are all a direct result of a natural process whereby trees emit volatile organic compounds, or essential oils called phytoncides, into the air, and you then breathe them into your body.
Basically, trees release phytoncides as a means of protecting themselves from germs and other parasites, and when you ingest them during forest bathing, you gain therapeutic protection for yourself as well.
In fact, forest bathing is known to decrease stress, anxiety and blood pressure and increase a sense of calm and immune functions. Doctors in Japan can even prescribe forest bathing to patients under the local equivalent of Medicare.
In an extension of forest bathing, the lakeside city of Lahti in Finland has installed tree-hung laptop desks in remote locations in local forests. It’s necessary to tramp two or three kilometres from the nearest car park to get to one, but the desks have proved popular with people working from home during the pandemic (at least during the summer months) and other towns in Finland and Sweden are considering following Lahti’s lead.
It’s estimated that the majority of people now spend an alarming 90% of time within the built environment, so embracing biophilic design and introducing nature into the office makes perfect sense