Biophilia White Paper

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We spend a great chunk of our lives at work. For some, this isn’t so bad. Walk into a high-ceilinged workspace, filled with natural light, artwork and plant life and it’s more than likely your creative ability will be invigorated. Yet these offices are few and far between, with the reality likely being a drab, open plan office that sucks the creativity and enthusiasm from you the longer you spend there. The way we design our offices is important, from the big aspects to the small, from the obvious to the obscure.

This informative report is the result of research conducted by Where We Work, written by Jessica Andrews with input from Planteria Group.

Where We Work offers a focused range of workplace consultancy services, with the necessary tools and expertise to help understand your business, your people, and your place of work. Where We Work partners with clients to develop a robust workplace strategy by looking, listening and discussing how each company interacts with their space.

Biophilia is word that you’re going to be hearing a lot more of and it’s going to have an ever increasing influence on interior design and architecture. Yet many of us are probably unfamiliar with this term. This paper seeks to explain the concept of biophilia and its application in an office environment as well as investigating the potential benefits of plants in the workspace and why they are so often a forgotten element.

What is Biophilia?

Let’s start with the basics. What is biophilia? Simply put, it literally means ‘a love of life or living things’; stemming from the Greek word ‘philia’, meaning love. As humans, we have an intuitive and deeply ingrained connection with nature and a biological need for immersion in the natural world. The relationship between people and plants has always been profoundly important. Biophilic design is a response to this human need, which works to re-establish contact with nature in the built environment. Plants affect every aspect of our lives; without them life as we know it would not be possible. Plants not only make the air breathable, but kick off the food chain. We feel good in nature, if you were asked to picture a place where you feel calm and relaxed, chances are you would pick a scene involving nature. This is backed up by statistics which show that 90% of us imagine a natural setting when presented with this task (Mocha, 2013). Our mental and physical well-being depends on engagement with the natural environment, being in a drab room without windows and piped air makes us feel lethargic, even depressed.

A connection with the natural world is clearly important. Yet we are living in ever more urban environments, deforesting trees to build our cities around the globe. The increasing academic and organisational interest in biophilia and biophilic design is driven by the positive outcomes that it can help to create, for both individuals and businesses.

This increasing interest in biophilia comes at a time when, as a species, we are more disconnected from nature than we have ever been. Living in an inner city, one can go days without seeing a patch of grass. Living and working in central London, you have to actively search out areas of green, else it could be weeks before you escape the underground, sky scrapers and office spaces overlooking (you guessed it), yet more concrete.

At a time when businesses have more knowledge than ever before on the effect of work environments on their people and their bottom line, it’s surprising that the biophilic agenda is still in its infancy.

In its rawest form, biophilic design is the theory, science and practice of bringing buildings to life and aims to continue a person’s connections with nature in man-made environments, such as offices, where we live and work every day. By mimicking natural environments in man-made ones, we can decrease our isolation from nature and create workspaces that are imbued with positive emotional experiences. (Human Spaces, 2015)

 

Bringing nature to work

Biophilic design brings an office to life. The benefits of biophilia stretch far beyond the practical benefits of recycling clean air.

Recent research into biophilia has found the positive impacts contact with nature can have. Studies have shown that this impact includes increasing academic performance amongst school children, increasing consumer’s willingness to spend and even reducing stress and anxiety before medical procedures. People exposed to natural surroundings are more energised, feel less stressed and have improved attention spans (Human Spaces, 2015) – all good news for employers. Recently, white papers such as ‘The Economics of Biophilia’ have shown us that natural materials in a workspace are not extravagances, but a way to make cost-savings and drive profits. (Terrapin, 2015)

Analysis has shown that individuals with a view from their desk of natural elements such as water, trees or countryside have greater levels of well-being that people who have a view of buildings, roads or construction sites (Human Spaces, 2015). However, one study found that just 58% of workers have natural light reaching their desk and 7% have no windows at all – a clear indication that the benefits of bringing nature to work are not appreciated or applied to the workplace nearly enough.

However, it is important to note that in some cases it is not possible to provide employees with views of nature. If offices are located in the centre of a large city, it would not be a practical aim to strive towards. In these cases, it is possible to bring nature inside. Introducing plants, trees, water fountains and images of nature are all ways to add a biophilic element to an office space, increase the connection employees have to nature and reap the benefits this sows.

This may sound like a daunting task, but bringing plants into the office space has never been easier. Help is also at hand in the form of companies with a wealth of knowledge into biophilia and its application in an office environment.

 

Planteria case study

So we know that plants make us feel good. But how does this feeling directly apply to the workplace? How does having plants in the office impact the bottom line and how can business maximise the potential benefits?

Planteria Group are a company specialising in planting services, with clients in many different sectors including corporate offices.  Established in 1977, Planteria have grown over the past 40 years and now provide a national service to over 900 sites across the UK.  They have seen an increasing appreciation of the importance of planting in the work place.

“We have seen a change in the attitude towards planting in the work place.  What was once considered a ‘nice to have’ is now more likely to be viewed as a ‘must have’ and this is very positive.  However, we still have a way to go in raising awareness of the importance of biophilia and the beneficial effects it has on people, improving wellbeing in the work place, especially with businesses outside of our major cities.  Yes, planting helps to improve productivity and creativity but most importantly it improves physical and mental health and creates a happier environment.  So much time is spent at work, creating the best possible environment for your people is paramount.

Plants and flowers do so much more than add the finishing touches to an interior they can create a completely different ‘feel’ to a location.  What was clinical and bland can be transformed into a vibrant, or more relaxing space.  Planting can also be used for practical benefits.  For example, a living wall or moss wall will improve acoustics by absorbing sound.  Cabinet top planting can cut clutter by removing the areas where people leave cups and folders or unclaimed printing.  Or add live planting dividers to get the benefits and attractiveness of plants whilst creating instant, low cost break-out areas and informal meeting spaces in open plan office.

As one of the first tenants to make their home in London’s Iconic Walkie Talkie building.  Insurance specialists, Lancashire Group were looking to buck the trend.  Their focus in establishing a single office for their combined Lloyd’s and London market operations was to move away from the more usual monochrome minimalism and instead opt for a warm, homely, fun atmosphere for the workplace, with soft furnishings and materials to create a look that managed to be both high-end and cosy.

Plants were an essential element to complete the interior and we chose them with care to reflect and enhance this concept.  We used bark containers in the client waiting area along with neutral white containers in the office and meetings rooms.  Succulent plants add a fun, contemporary touch to the breakout areas, and funky square cabinet top displays completed the fit-out.”

 

Biophilia and productivity

An all too common belief is that money spent on plants is money wasted (Dravigne et al., 2008). This is a sentiment that has been widely shared throughout history, where literature argues that clean, obstruction free work spaces are the most economical route to business health and productivity (e.g. Haberkorn, 2005).

The ‘lean’, rather than ‘green’, philosophy has a long history indeed. The idea that productive workplaces are those free from interference was formally put across by Josiah Wedgewood in the 18th century and it was this work which inspired Frederick Taylor (1911) to apply the principles of scientific management to office space.

In the wake of these findings, it is common for managers to insist that workspaces should be clear of plants, pictures and anything that is not directly required for the job at hand, in order to streamline operations and maximise productivity (Haslam & Knight, 2006). Yet doesn’t basing these assumptions on work that is over a century old seem a little foolish? Indeed, the workspace, the products and services we provide and the technology we use would be unimaginable to Taylor when he came up with his theories.

The evidence suggests that to neglect enrichment in the workplace is foolish indeed. Research by Knight and Haslam in 2010 found that people who work in an environment enriched with plants were more productive than their peers who worked in a lean space. Additionally, levels of wellbeing – measured by sick days, feelings of comfort and levels of job satisfaction – were significantly higher in the spaces containing plants. This study found the lean space to be inferior in all dimensions.

Why do plants have this impact?

Generally, studies into the impact of plants have indicated that we experience a beneficial psychological and physiological reaction from being exposed to nature. Physiological stress, or arousal (as measured by heart rate, blood pressure, and/or skin conductance) is often lower after exposure to plants and nature as compared with urban settings and exposure to nature has been shown to have the capacity to improve attention (Berman et al., 2008).

As it stands, there are three main classes of explanation for these responses. The first states that plants, as living organisms, have a beneficial influence on the climate of the working environment – in particular because they improve air quality. Indeed, when planted in sufficient quantity, indoor plants have been shown to remove many types of air-borne pollutants from both indoor and outdoor sources (Nieuwenhuis et al., 2014). In offices with plants, staff well-being increases and there is a reduction in sick leave (Bergs, 2002). Plants ability to absorb carbon dioxide also has beneficial implications for the office; studies have found that student performance declines with increasing CO2 levels (Shaughnessy et al., 2006), as does workplace productivity (Seppänen et al., 2006).

The second explanation of plants’ beneficial effects revolves around our evolution. Evolutionarily speaking, a green environment reflects the natural world and so supports human physiology (Appleton, 1975).

The third and final class of explanation moves away from physiological responses and instead considers the managerial consequences of enrichment. The basic premise of this theory is that enrichment of the workplace (whether through plants or other means) signals that attempts are being made by management to improve staff well-being (Vischer, 2005). This sense of managerial care communicates their focus on employee well-being, which may lead to increased attention at work, greater productivity and engagement and lower absence and attrition. Evidence supporting this idea comes in the form of a study by Dravigne et al. (2008), which showed that people working in offices with plants reported feeling happier in their job and their performance.

Additionally, this study emphasises the aforementioned point that transforming a lean office to a green one contributes not just to employee welfare, but also to profits and organisational output. Lean, it appears, is meaner than green, not only because it is less pleasant, but also because it is less productive (Nieuwenhuis et al., 2014).

When we’re happy and feeling good, we have a more positive outlook and are generally able to do more. There is clear evidence which directly links biophilia with organisational output. In a study of call centre workers, the numbers of calls handles per hour was 6-7% greater for those with a view of the outdoor environment, in comparison to those with no view. (Human Spaces, 2015)

It is clear that enriched spaces lead to improved job performance and greater productivity.  Yet of course, this idea that empowering organisational strategies have positive consequences is not new to either social or organisational psychology. Both of these disciplines benefit from massive literature supporting the notion that productivity and well-being can be enhanced by including employees in the decision making process and giving them a voice in their workplace (e.g. Eggins et al., 2002).

So, with this abundance of evidence pointing to the fact that enriched spaces make us happier and more productive, why are aspects such as plants not a feature in all modern office spaces?

The problem with the modern office

The way we structure our offices has changed considerably over the past few decades. More often than not, the world of the modern office is dominated by open plan. It’s not hard to identify why this change has occurred, the cost of space has sky rocketed and open plan provides a cost effective way to maximise the number of staff on the office floor. Yet the evidence suggests that the costs of open plan offices might offset the benefits of savings in terms of space if it is not implemented properly, as part of a multi-layered office design. They are often cramped, noisy and starved of light and some staff find themselves in the position of having no opportunity to express their identity at work – at all.

Studies across the pond have found that 70% of American workers personalise their workspaces. Yet it is managers and employees with enclosed offices who decorate more than their co-workers in open plan spaces (Wells & Thelen, 2002). In open plan spaces, personalisation of low-status working space is often infrequent and discouraged (Laing et al., 1998). The dominance of open plan offices means that the majority of staff now suffer from a lack of identity at work and a 2010 study by Knight & Haslam found that clean-desk policies resulted in high levels of personal identity threat, increased stress and a reduced willingness to contribute to company policy. This is thought to be due to the limited opportunities these staff had to express their personal identities, for example by decorating their workspace. Open plan offices themselves are not the problem, as they do have their benefits. However, it is important that offices be designed with the drawbacks open plan can have in mind and counteract these issues – for example by including quiet spaces, artwork and greenery.

A final thought…

The evidence that enriched spaces which involve employees in their design boosts morale and productivity is important. Perhaps most notably because it challenges the managerial models which argue the best way to manage is by removing autonomy and control from staff and having decisions come only from managers – as was noted by Bibby in 1996 (work which is still very relevant to academic research today). The fact that giving workers ‘some say’ in the design of their workspace is seen as ‘experimental’ indicates just how ingrained the ethos of managerial control has become.

At its core, the simplistic answer as to why plants are so often neglected lies with the individuals responsible for office design. The management of the modern office is typically influenced by architects, interior designers and facility managers, rather than by psychologists and office workers (Cohen, 2007). Managers need to move away from an autocratic style of management, towards a more collective approach to office design which involves staff at all stages of the process. Giving employees a say in the type of plants to introduce into a space is a great way to begin this movement.

The idea of incorporating nature into the built environment through biophilic design is less often seen as a luxury in the modern workplace, but rather as a sound economic investment into employees’ health, well-being and performance. Plants in the workspace can have a remarkable impact on employee well-being, both from the biological impact of their presence and the psychological benefit being involved in decision making can have. With this in mind, it seems that taking baby steps to introduce the natural world into the man-made one we have created around us, seems to be of the utmost importance to the well-being of office staff. It seems starkly apparent that green really is better than lean in all walks of life – and the modern office should be no exception.

Author: Jessica Andrews

References

Berman, M.G., Jonides, J., & Kaplan, S. (2008). The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Psychological Science, 19, 1207–1212.

Bibby, A. (1996). ‘Leeds: working life in Call Centre City’, updated from an original article in Flexible Working, August; http://www.andrewbibby.com/telework/leeds.html (last ac- cessed 27 June 2006). 

Cohen, L. M. (2007). Bridging two streams of office design research: A comparison of design/behavior and management journal articles from 1980–2001. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, 24, 289– 307. 

Dravigne, A., Waliczek, T. M., Lineberger, R. D., & Zajicek, J. M. (2008). The effects of live plants and window views of green spaces on em-ployee perceptions of job satisfaction. HortScience, 43, 183–187.

Eggins, R. A., S. A. Haslam and K. J. Reynolds (2002). ‘Social identity and negotiation: subgroup representation and super- ordinate consensus’, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, pp. 887–899.?

Haberkorn, G. (2005). Improving flow in an office setting. In Productivity Press Development Team (Ed.), The lean office: Collected practices and cases (pp. 95–104). New York, NY: Productivity Press.

Haslam, S. A., & Knight, C. P. (2006). Your place or mine? BBC News Web site. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/6155438.stm

Human Spaces. 2015. The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace. Available from: http://humanspaces.com/global-report/

Knight, C. & Haslam, S. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied American Psychological Association 2010, Vol. 16, No. 2, 158–172 1076-898X/10/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0019292 

Laing, A., Duffy, F., Jaunzens, D., & Willis, S. (1998). New environments for working. London, England: Construct Research Communications. 

Mocha. 2013. What is Biophilia? And why you need biophilic design in your home. Available from: http://www.mochacasa.com/blog/biophilia-biophilic-design/

Nieuwenhuis, M., Knight, C., Postmes, T., & Haslam, S. A. (2014, July 28). The Relative Benefits of Green Versus Lean Office Space: Three Field Experiments. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. Advance online publication.

Terrapin. 2015. The Economics of Biophilia. Available from: https://www.terrapinbrightgreen.com/report/economics-of-biophilia/

Wells, M., & Thelen, L. (2002). What does your workspace say about you.  Environment and Behavior, 34, 300–321.?

Mental Health Awareness and World WellBeing Week

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Understanding those struggling with mental health issues is integral to building a business that can promote equal opportunities. In this article, we consider this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme, and how to avoid stress and friction in the workplace. We also talk about how you can help those who are suffering from mental health issues to create a comfortable workplace that promotes balance and wellbeing.

The average British employee will work for 34 hours and 26 minutes a week, making it extremely important to create a working environment which promotes health and wellbeing. World WellBeing Week starts on June 24th this year, so let’s endeavour to change for the better together.

 

This Year’s Theme – Body Image

Mental Health Awareness Week has been running since 2001 and every year brings a different aspect of mental health issues to the centre of the public’s attention. Most people go through a phase of struggling with body image at some point in their lives, especially teenagers, but body image problems aren’t felt by teenagers alone.

In both the UK and Australia, in 2016, only 20 per cent of women between the ages of 10 and 60 admitted to having high self-esteem about how they looked. If you think that body image isn’t important to the workforce, then we’re asking you to think again; some of those in the 80% with low self-esteem even confessed to skipping job interviews because they felt they had a poor body image.

 

Managing Stress in the Workplace

While Mental Health Awareness Week this year was focused on improving conceptions about body image, the underlying thread of every campaign is that stress can be deadly and often leads to other mental health issues, including body image problems which in turn can lead to eating disorders and poor physical health.

It is important to create a working environment where your staff can thrive and you can do this by targeting those stresses which are distracting them from both feeling well and performing at their best. If you agree that working whilst suffering from physical pain leads to an impaired performance, then you should agree that forcing body image standards that are mentally unhealthy need to be overturned. This may include catering for disabled staff and clients in your establishment by reconsidering the facilities that you have available to encourage the notion that all bodies are welcomed.

Along with World Wellbeing Day on June 22nd, World WellBeing Week calls for businesses and individuals to take a more critical stance regarding their social, physical, emotional, financial and environmental wellbeing. You can show that you value your employees by pursuing these goals, and – if you succeed – you may even find yourself taking part in the annual WellBeing Festival in the future as an award holder of the  ‘Leaders in Wellbeing’ ceremony.

 

Other Ideas for Managing Mental Health

If you are questioning what you can do to help those struggling with mental health issues, then you should first know that even those who are diagnosed with the same problem could have very different experiences and symptoms. This means that it is most important to stay open to new ideas when trying to provide support; what works for one may not work for another.

Our focus on improving office environments and reducing stress in the workplace means that we have a fair few general ideas that could help to create at least the best physical environment to nurture workers and improve wellbeing. Bear in mind that not all the following ideas will suit everyone, but perhaps everyone will find one idea that appeals to them:

Biophilic Design

It is a well-known fact that staying in contact with the natural world can help to improve emotional stability. Modern humans suffer from a lack of connection with nature, but you can put that right by bringing nature into your place of work.

The concept of biophilic design is about mindfully connecting humans to nature in the build environment, by including natural daylighting, by adding plants to your place of work, and including biomorphic design and furnishings which mimic nature. Many studies have proved that this design practice has the added benefits of improving creativity and productivity.

If you’re interested in reading more about Biophilia, you can read our blog, Biophilia – What is it and why is it important?

Shinrin Yoku

We recently wrote a blog about how Forest Bathing can really help individuals to escape from their daily stresses. You could encourage your employees to engage in this technique to decrease building stress, increase balance and improve focus at work.

If your office is located near a green space, like a park, you could encourage staff to go for a walk there during breaks to cool off and take in the beautiful nature surrounding them.

Healthy Benefits

Many modern businesses offer their staff perks for staying with the company, and you can show that you care about your staff by providing them with useful perks that encourage good health. Mental and physical health are more closely linked than people think; for example, those struggling with depression often find it difficult to get out and exercise, which can eventually lead to poor self-care routines, which can further feed feelings of depression and isolation.

By supplying your staff with healthy perks like gym memberships and healthy office snacks, you are encouraging your staff to take care of themselves, and this could improve their confidence in both their general health as well as their body image.

 

How We Can Improve Your Office Space with Plants and Flowers

Planteria aim to make it as easy as possible to include plants and flowers into workspace. We can help you with design ideas, carry out the installation and then take care of your plants, to create an office that is formal yet comfortable, stylish as well as productive. Office flowers make a beautiful first impression for your reception area and set the tone that this is an organisation that cares about its people and their wellbeing. We can consider the layout of your office to help you to find the perfect plants for your office environment, whether that’s spacious or small, lacking in natural light or bright and sunny. We have also written about other ways to Reduce Work-Related Stress which you can read about on our blog.

Planteria’s Success with Mount Media

Impress both your employees and your clients by working with us to create somewhere stunning, healthier and more productive, and keep coming back to our blog to read the latest news and tips about how to craft the best office environments – physically, mentally and socially. Working with us is a stress-free journey towards improving your business.

Biophilia – What is it and why is it important?

Planteria tell you what you need to know.

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How high up on your agenda are the Plants for your Office? Learning more about this design ‘buzzword’ and the philosophy behind it is bound to change your perspective.

The word biophilia originates from the Greek, ‘philia’ meaning ‘love of’. It literally means a love of life or living things. Humans have a deeply engrained love of nature which is an intuitive and natural drive imprinted into our DNA. Researchers believe this to be a reason that we have thrived as a species, helping us to locate the most fertile land, cultivate food and nurture new life. We have a physiological need to be in contact with nature and the natural world.

Researchers have found that more than 90% of people would imagine themselves in a natural setting when asked to think of a place where they felt relaxed and calm. Being in or around nature makes us feel good, our physical and mental wellbeing depends on us spending time in a natural environment and this effects our productivity and general wellbeing too.

Psychologist, Erich Fromm, first used the word biophilia in 1964, when he described it as “the passionate love of life and all that is alive”. Biophilia as a concept became more well known in 1984 following the publishing of the book ‘Biophilia’ by Edward O Wilson, an American biologist, Wilson defined it as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”.

Since then, biophilia has become increasingly recognised by the scientific community and also by designers and architects. Studies have shown evidence of positive benefits of human interaction with nature, such as improved productivity, lower levels of stress, enhanced learning and even improved recovery rates following illness.

These studies have led to many architects and designers appreciating the connection between some of our modern-day ailments and the design of many modern buildings and office environments. And so biophilic design came about. Biophilic design incorporates, natural elements, maximising daylight, views of nature, natural materials and natural features such as indoor planting and water features, into architecture and interior designs.

If you’ve ever been stuck in an office with no windows, artificial light, and air-conditioning and wondered why you felt un-motivated and lethargic, you’ll understand just how important biophilia and biophilic design is.

Dr Chris Knight from Exeter University, studied the effects of soulless drab working environments for more than 10 years. The results show that employees were 15% more productive when “lean” workplaces are filled with just a few houseplants.

Knight says he had wondered for years why the business world had persisted with the trend for sparse offices. “If you put an ant into a ‘lean’ jam jar, or a gorilla in a zoo into a ‘lean’ cage – they’re miserable beasties,” he said. People in “lean” offices are no different, he added. He found that when plants were brought into the offices he studied – just one plant per square metre – employee performance on memory retention and other basic tests improved substantially.

“What was important was that everybody could see a plant from their desk. If you are working in an environment where there’s something to get you psychologically engaged you are happier and you work better,” Knight said.

Here at Planteria we are huge advocates of biophilia and, as you’d imagine, our offices are jam packed with beautiful plants and flowers. Plants can also be used to create natural work-space dividers, absorbing sound and creating more private spaces to work or have informal meetings. They help to keep the air clean. There are so many reasons to include plants, not forgetting that they also look great. If you want some more inspiration check out our case studies. Or contact us for some advice on how to add plants to your work space today.