The modern office has been an integral part of many of our lives since the rise of accessible technology in our society. Today, the modern office can be loosely defined as a place that maximizes space and utilizes technology in order to drive employee productivity. Yet, the practices that companies use to keep their employees productive have and will continue to evolve. Productivity is no longer something that is fostered solely by keeping employees in their own cubicles and making sure all office tech is the best on the market. Employees rely on other measures for productivity and benefits from working in an office environment. Organizations have experimented with different ways to both increase productivity in the office as well as provide overall benefits to their employees, and one of the successful ways to continually benefit employees is to ensure access to elements of nature in the workplace.
Incorporating nature into the modern office is not a new concept. However, it has become more widely adopted in workplaces in recent years. Studies conducted on the topic have proven that access to nature in the office offers several benefits to employees. In a study conducted by Public Health Reports in 2011, increased exposure to nature led to a decrease in perceived stress and general health complaints. The study also suggested that access to nature in the workplace is a simple approach that can be used to enhance workplace health promotion efforts.
There is also an entire field dedicated to the concept of incorporating elements of nature into the built environment. This is known as biophilic design or biophilia. Biophilia is the desire to seek connections with nature, and biophilic design is an approach to connecting building occupants with nature. While this is not a new concept, it has gained traction in recent years. A few factors contributing to the boom in biophilic design include growing climate concerns and a focus on mental and physical health. With 90% of our time spent indoors, we must seek out ways to bring the outdoors in to foster a connection with nature.
Many people are familiar with LEED, the sustainability standard for buildings. There is also the WELL standard, which is focused on the occupants of buildings and how the physical and social environments affect human health, well-being, and performance. The features WELL focuses on including Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Movement, Thermal Comfort, Sound, Materials, Mind, Community, and Innovation – many of which tie back to nature. You can learn more about WELL in our video blog here.
There are many great examples of companies that have adopted the concept of incorporating nature into their office environments. Studio Gang, an architecture firm in Chicago, is always seeking to design spaces that connect people with one another and with their environment. When designing their office, they wanted to ensure that their employees had a place of respite from the mundane office environment and from the bustling city. Their design incorporates a green roof on the building that serves as both a place for employees and for inviting members of the community.
Studio Gang's green roof
Another, earlier example of the integration of nature in the workplace is at the John Deere World Headquarters in Moline, Illinois. Designed by famed architect Eero Saarinen in the 1950s, the main office building features an expansive lobby filled with plant life. Today, the lobby is open to the public. The massive complex, which consists of three buildings, is surrounded by two ponds and a beautiful rural landscape.
While not all offices are able to be surrounded by nature, there are ways to bring the outside in to have a positive effect on employees. The James Comprehensive Cancer Center and Solove Research Institute located in Columbus, Ohio use the concept of biophilic design to bring benefit to their patients as well as employees. Natural light and views of the outdoors were key design features throughout the hospital, providing a healing environment for patients and an environment that would foster well-being for doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals. Patients, visitors, and staff can enjoy an outdoor café, and terrace garden plantings will include vegetables that demonstrate cancer preventive properties.
Incorporating Nature and Biophilic Design into Your Space
One of the many benefits of incorporating nature in an office setting is that there are lots of different ways of doing so. It can be achieved at any scale, and often for an affordable price. Designers and architects can incorporate this practice when designing for offices, and companies can even decide to add elements of nature to their already existing workplaces. Even an individual who works from home can apply these techniques to their home office. Here are some applications for making nature a part of any workspace.
Nature-inspired materials: Incorporate materials that remind us of nature and the calming effect it has on us such as wood, organic patterns, and calming colors.
Graphics and Artwork: When you can't provide a natural environment, imagery of the outdoors and nature can still evoke a sense of calm and a moment of stress relief.
Greenery: Incorporate real plants into the space or on the walls. Real plants will push oxygen into spaces and carbon dioxide out. There are also solutions that do not require any maintenance such as preserved moss and fake plants.
Access to natural light and views to the outside: Open plan environments and glass walls can help carry natural light further into the space. In rooms without natural light, light fixtures with warm hues can also evoke a calming sense of nature and sunlight.
Considerations for Building Design to Enhance Access to Nature:
Site selection and orientation
Transparency to the outside
Light shelves to carry light into the building
Providing access to nice outdoor spaces
Alternate work and meeting environments
Walking or biking paths
Terraces or Rooftops
While the idea of incorporating elements of nature into the modern office is not a new concept, we are still learning about its effects and unlocking the potential benefits that it can provide for employees. There are new standards of buildings being based on the idea that a person’s well-being is influenced by the built environment. Using nature in the workplace is an effective way to maximize employee health, happiness, and well-being while at work.