Unwavering devotees of Metropolis and Gotham notwithstanding, science says nature puts everyone in a happy place that supports mental and physical health while even boosting work performance. Natural environments reduce stress — as reflected in lower cortisol levels — and increase happiness, as measured by higher dopamine levels.
It’s the reason joyful childhood memories are often filled with times spent outdoors, running around the park or playground, recalling the smell of freshly mowed grass, swimming and splashing. And it explains how spending time outdoors reduces depression and anxiety.
Being outside for even minutes a day also boosts focus and creativity, helping us problem-solve and increase cognitive function.
Since the pandemic, our desire to be in nature is even more pronounced: Studies say there’s a 20% increase in outdoor enthusiasts in the U.S., and more Gen Z and Millennials are considering jobs in nature conservation. Both reflect a wish to reconnect with nature and explore the great outdoors — not to mention save the planet.
That’s why biophilic design matters — and is a top trend in modern workplaces.
Biophilic design is about building nature into environments like our homes, offices, and communities. Early examples like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Alhambra of Granada were created millennia ago. In recent years, corporate offices for companies like Google and Apple have gotten attention for designs that connect with nature to benefit people as well as businesses.
When biophilic design is thoughtfully applied to the office, the potential benefits are immense. Research concludes that bringing the outdoors in can improve workplace performance, health, and well-being by as much as 15%. It also indicates that workplaces incorporating nature attract and retain talent, while those that don’t can attribute 10% of absences to a lack of natural elements.
Biophilia can be satisfied at the office through exterior and interior design elements, creating a framework to make work environments more beautiful, inviting and inspiring. Plus, buildings considered “green” or sustainable minimize energy and water consumption, which helps combat climate change.
BENEFITS OF BIOPHILIC DESIGN IN THE WORKPLACE
Seven of the top benefits of biophilic design in the workplace include:
1) Better Air Quality
Indoor air pollutants reduce air quality and cause health problems like respiratory disease, headaches, and fatigue. Biophilic design helps improve indoor air quality by incorporating plants and other natural elements. Plants filter pollutants from the air and add moisture, which helps prevent the drying of skin, eyes and throat. Natural ventilation systems can increase airflow and reduce the build-up of indoor pollutants. To help ensure cleaner air within its qualifying office buildings, KBS has upgraded air filters to MERV-13 to block 98% of pollutants from the air and capture viruses, bacteria, pollen, fine dust and more.
2) Stress Reduction
Stress is a major problem in the modern workplace. Biophilic design can help reduce stress by bringing in natural elements that have a calming effect; in fact, plants have shown to improve peoples’ moods. Natural light is also vital for reducing stress, as it helps regulate our circadian rhythm and has a powerful, positive effect on mental and physical health and overall welfare.
3) Increased Productivity
Biophilic design can help increase workplace productivity by creating a more pleasant and comfortable environment. Studies reveal that workers in biophilic environments are more productive and take fewer sick days because having natural light, plants, and other natural elements in the workplace helps create a more relaxing and inspiring atmosphere that can lead to increased creativity and innovation.
4) Better Cognitive Function
Feeling connected to nature improves cognitive function, similar to how being in nature allows people to focus and concentrate better. Consequently, incorporating natural elements in the workplace helps boost memory, attention, and creativity. In addition, it helps reduce mental fatigue, which leads to improved overall cognitive function.
5) Improved Well-being
Biophilic design can help boost workplace satisfaction by creating a more supportive and inspiring environment. Exposure to natural elements reduces stress and has other mental and physical health benefits, like improving confidence and self-esteem and raising energy levels. As a result, designing with biophilia in mind can help reduce the risk of workplace injuries and illnesses.
6) Increased Sustainability
Biophilic design can increase sustainability by incorporating natural, environmentally friendly elements. For example, adding plants can help reduce the need for artificial air conditioning and heating, reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Providing natural light can help reduce the need for artificial lighting, saving energy and reducing emissions.
7) Enhanced Brand Image
Finally, companies that tap into biophilia are often regarded as more sustainable and socially responsible. By identifying as a brand that values nature in the workplace, companies demonstrate a commitment to sustainability and concern for employee health. This can significantly impact brand image — not to mention boost employee morale and help attract and retain top talent.
HOW TO CONNECT WORKSPACE WITH NATURE
To connect the work environment with nature, companies should get creative and tailor biophilic design to employees and their needs. There are many ways to achieve this through thoughtful exterior and interior design features. Here are some key ingredients:
- Access to fresh air — Have openable windows and well-maintained air purification and HVAC systems.
- Natural light — Expose employees to natural light through windows, skylights, outdoor work areas, glass walls, open sight lines, and natural light lamps.
- Open space — Encourage movement by having open floor plans, stairs to climb, and walking meetings.
- Plants — Place live plants and vegetation throughout the office to get grounded with nature, clean indoor air, and “go green.”
- Artwork — Display art that depicts outdoor scenes, like forests, trails, or other landscapes.
- Water features — Use fountains or indoor waterfalls to add a natural aesthetic and sound.
- Natural elements — Incorporate wood and stone into furniture, walls, and floors.
- R & R spaces — Give employees places to “relax and recharge.”
When implementing biophilic design in the workplace, companies should consider factors like location, building orientation, cost, and potential ROI in terms of employee productivity and benefit.
COMPANIES THAT HAVE IMPLEMENTED BIOPHILIC DESIGN
Since the pandemic, more people are pursuing nature-connected lifestyles as a form of self-care. Likewise, biophilic design in the workplace is becoming increasingly popular with professionals, especially those younger or living in large urban, “non-green” areas. Companies have taken notice. Some that are embracing biophilic design are:
- Apple — The newest “Apple Park” campus in Cupertino, California, has 9,000 trees. They wrap around Apple’s curvy, doughnut-shaped building, designed to invite light inside from all angles.
- Citibank — The office in Singapore features extensive use of native plant species in and around meeting rooms, focus areas and common spaces.
- Fairlife — The milk producer’s Chicago headquarters is moo-ving the pasture indoors. Earthy colors and greenery are woven throughout the open office design. Planters create structure-providing barriers, and main areas and conference rooms feature “grassy” carpeting and images of nature.
- Rolls Royce — The engine manufacturer in Chichester, England, is headquartered in a building whose massive plant-covered roof provides insulation and helps stem stormwater runoff.
- Sacramento Kings — The NBA’s Sacramento team creates cozy workspaces by “naturally” breaking up its open-concept corporate offices. Smaller spaces are lit to cast naturalistic shadows and anchored by organic wall art made from weathered wood bordered by neutral-colored planters.
- KBS — Aligning ideally with its ESG goals, the commercial real estate leader has implemented and expanded an urban beekeeping program to the company’s current REIT and separate account portfolios. The rooftop and building-adjacent apiaries are part of a greater effort to integrate facets of nature where they’ll benefit tenants and the ecosystem. According to Best Bees, strategically placing beehives in workplaces and public areas for people’s delight and engagement increases connectivity to the natural environment. It’s part of KBS’ continual effort to find new ways to incorporate amenities at their properties to meet tenant demand for ESG and enable properties to operate more efficiently.
Human beings have a deep desire to connect with nature. Being surrounded by it makes us happy and enables optimum performance. Biophilic design re-establishes this powerful connection by bringing nature inside the built environment. Put differently, biophilic design harmonizes people with the office.
By incorporating natural elements into the workplace, companies can create work environments with improved air quality, reduced stress, increased productivity, better cognitive function, increased sustainability, and enhanced brand image. This attracts and retains top talent to promote individual happiness and drive business success.
Learn more by visiting KBS.com/Insights