The Future of the Workplace and Biophilic Design

The Pandemic – A Catalyst for Positive Change

So much has changed in the workplace since the start of 2020.

Driven by the work-from-home rule and national lockdown, companies could no longer argue against flexible home-working, in fact in some cases it actually increased productivity, and profitability. On the flip side, many of us discovered that working from home can be isolating, demotivating, and downright difficult, all depending on personal circumstances, and individual preferences.

Throughout 2020 and 2021, as Covid swept through all our lives, it brought with it drastic changes to how we lived and worked has.  The constant narrative across media platforms and our collective experience, emphasised the fragility of our planet and made us stop and consider our core values.

For most of us, those priorities are looking after our physical and mental health and our families, and concern for the environment.

trough planting of dracaena compacta

During the long months of the pandemic, millions of us turned to nature for support, in 2021 the Mental Health Foundation took the theme of ‘Nature’ for Mental Health Awareness Week. Working with the University of Cambridge, Swansea University, the University of Strathclyde, and Queen’s University Belfast, The Mental Health Foundation is leading an ongoing, UK-wide, cross-sectional study of how the pandemic is affecting people’s mental health.

Their research showed going for walks outside was one of our top coping strategies, with 45% of us reporting that being in green spaces had been vital for our mental health. Websites that showed footage from webcams of wildlife, saw hits increase by over 2000%. Wider studies also found that during lockdowns, people not only spent more time in nature but were noticing it more.

Biophilic Design – The Connection Between People and Nature

Nature is a powerful antidote to stress.  If you think about how different you feel when you are in a city centre location, compared with how you feel when you are in a rural, natural setting, for example walking through a field or sitting in your garden, you’ll already begin to understand the concept of biophilia and the positive emotional and physical impact it has on you.

Being in nature helps us to feel calm, peaceful, and happier. This mental state, in turn, improves our health, directly affecting heart rate and blood pressure and positively impacting the healthy functioning of our autonomic nervous system, the operating system that keeps us in a state of balance and runs all major functions in our body.

The word biophilia means love of life and living things bio = life and philia = the love of something, the opposite of phobia, the concept that we as humans have an innate desire to be connected to nature.

living wall

In the UK we spend around 90% or more of our time indoors, so it is important that we are creating the best possible indoor environments, bringing the outdoors inside, or at least the sense that we are enriching our surroundings to feel more connected with nature. This does not have to be difficult.

It’s about including all your senses and making the most of plenty of natural elements; natural light, plants, water features, natural colour palettes for décor, and rich variation in textures and styles for soft furnishings, echoing nature. For example, natural woodgrain and artwork depicting nature.

Views from windows are also very important. In urban areas, we can help create better views by making spaces greener with living walls and green roofs or by creating pocket parks. Adding more planting to terraces and balconies is another simple and effective strategy. In built-up areas every space is important and by selecting natural native UK species of flowering plants, we can also improve biodiversity and support pollinators like bees and butterflies.

Supporting ESG Brings Competitive Advantage

Sustainability and wellbeing are now at the front of the mind for individuals and organisations. We now have the opportunity to build the future we want rather than stay on the track we were on before the pandemic hit.

The majority of the companies we are working with, have a strong commitment to an ESG strategy. They are also facing a situation where there is competition for talent and a need to attract and retain staff. As a result, office design is more important than ever in creating the right environment to support the companies’ goals, in outwardly displaying their green credentials, and in creating attractive environments that people will want to work in and that will support their wellbeing.

In many ways the events of the last 2 years have been a catalyst for change, making change happen faster more drastically. Companies have been able to completely re-think their office space and their working practices in a way that would have been unimaginable pre-2019.

The savviest companies have been quick to use the forced change of home working to look at their empty offices with fresh eyes. Perhaps they were considering an office move, or a refurbishment anyway, and they have gone ahead and used this as an opportunity, whilst all the staff were working from home, to do this work.

It has also meant that the usual ‘rule book’ of office design has been ripped up and thrown away allowing for much more creativity and the time and space to think about what kind of working culture and environment the company wants to create.

The organisations that are getting out ahead of the curve and designing people-centric offices with a focus on wellbeing are the ones who will reap the rewards, attracting and retaining the best talent and supporting their people to be creative and productive. These companies are the ones who look at investing in great office design because it will ultimately work for them, creating a positive ROI.

As well as looking great, offices incorporating biophilic design reduce absenteeism, improve staff engagement and productivity.

moss and air plants terrarium

Over the past decade or so many studies have been done on the positive impacts of biophilic design in the workplace, Elzeyadi’s study at the University of Oregon found that 10% of employee absences could be attributed to architectural elements that did not connect with nature and that a person’s view was the primary predictor of absenteeism.

A 2014 study found enriching a ‘lean’ office with plants could increase productivity by 15%. The research team examined the impact of ‘lean’ and ‘green’ offices on staff’s perceptions of air quality, concentration, and workplace satisfaction, and monitored productivity levels over subsequent months in two large commercial offices in the UK and The Netherlands.

The research showed plants in the office significantly increased workplace satisfaction, self-reported levels of concentration, and perceived air quality. Analyses into the reasons why plants are beneficial suggest that a green office increases employees’ work engagement by making them more physically, cognitively, and emotionally involved in their work.

The research showed plants in the office significantly increased workplace satisfaction, self-reported levels of concentration, and perceived air quality.

As K Freeman, biophilic design consultant says: “We know from previous studies that plants can lower physiological stress, increase attention span and improve well-being. But this is the first long-term experiment carried out in a real-life situation which shows that bringing plants into offices can improve well-being and make people feel happier at work. Businesses should rethink their lean processes, not only for the health of the employees but for the financial health of the organisation.

It’s very encouraging that something good will come out of the pandemic, and that the future of the workplace really will be greener and happier for the people occupying it, and have a wider impact that is beneficial for society as a whole.

breakout plants

Planteria Group is the leading expert in plants for business helping you with biophilic design to improve staff wellbeing and achieving your sustainability and CSR goals. We design, install and maintain planting across the UK. Get in touch with us today and let us help you too.


Related articles