Why 2016 is the year the outdoors finds its way into the office

Given the changing nature of how we do business, it comes as little surprise to note that the environment in which we carry out our work is also being modified.

Gone are the days – thankfully – of harsh strip-lighting, bleak colour schemes, claustrophobic cubicles and artificial plants. Instead, in have come bright colours, soft seating areas and ideas hubs in order to improve the physical and psychological wellbeing of employees and thus stimulate productivity and creativity. This is all backed by research findings, and is slowly becoming more widely accepted logic with company directors and entrepreneurs.

This general theme looks set to be expanded and moulded in new ways in 2016, with the notion of biophilic design coming to the fore. This, which is a notion based in the most terms of bringing “the outside inside”, has been found to improve productivity by six per cent and employee happiness by 15 per cent in a study conducted by Human Spaces. So how will this manifest itself in workplace design and architecture?

The natural way

Biophilic design taps into the universal notion that individuals, generally, are happier, more relaxed and in better health when they spend time in natural environments. Whether it is a long ramble through the countryside or a day spent at the seaside, escaping from the harsh urban landscape that many of us find ourselves in is a necessity.

So how can the workspace reflect this? Well, as we know, how an individual responds to the environment around them will contribute to their emotional and physical state. This in turn impacts upon feelings of motivation (or lethargy), productivity (or work shyness) and creativity (or stifled innovation). It sounds rather grandiose, but the workspace can and will inspire, motivate and energise employees; regardless of the nature of the business.

Biophilia, as the concept is known, was first coined by Edward Wilson as early as 1984, but it has taken more than two decades for the theory to become more mainstream. The link between psychological wellbeing, productivity, staff retention and the workplace are now key concerns for decision-makers.

Read more: Is biophilic design the key to a healthy workplace?

The desire for a connection to the natural world is not a new concept of course, but its interpretation in a corporate sense remains a particularly contemporary way of thinking. As Bill Browning, a biophilic design expert, confirms: “Biophilia in the simplest terms is innate human connection to nature. It plays out in pretty amazing ways. In the process of people experiencing nature we see reductions in stress, we see improved healing rates, we see enhanced cognitive function, we see better creativity, we see a variety of ways that that plays out.” 

It doesn’t require a huge leap of faith to see how these concepts can aid the typical workforce, then.

Just think about the world we live in for a moment. Most people choose to holiday in destinations that have distinct natural properties: a beautiful view, a rugged landscape, warmth and natural light. Consider the property market: houses located in beautiful surroundings are more desirable – and often sold at a greater price – than those in non-descript environs.

We can use these philosophies and supplant them into the workplace: prospective and existing employees will want to work for an organisation that understands the fundamental connection that we share with the natural world.

This extends beyond plopping a token cactus on a sideboard; it is reflected in the architectural layout of the workspace and its interior design. Colours, shapes and patterns all contribute to the ideology, as does access to natural light, an external view (even if it’s of the car park, it still counts) and elements of nature being brought inside. These offer respite and contribute to both physical and mental regeneration; essential for productivity and in fostering the spirit that this is an organisation that cares about its employees’ wellbeing.

Number crunching

Research from the Human Spaces Group entitled The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace’ confirms the theory that biophilia has a positive impact upon the working environment.

Their analysis concluded that measurable wellbeing increased by up to 15 per cent in workplaces that incorporated natural elements into their environment, when compared to the control group who worked in a sterile space with no connection to nature.

This figure of 15 per cent, in such a sample size, is significant.

The research continued to study the rate of measurable creativity in both the “green” environment and the sterile control group. Again, an increase of 15 per cent was experienced amongst the sample surrounded by natural elements.

The findings in the US took some of these theories to the next level. A worker without a view of nature or indeed the outside world is far less productive than one who does have that at their disposal; up to 40 per cent more hard-working, in fact. This is supported by the finding that most respondents felt calmer and more relaxed in such an environment.

Read more: Are sleeping pods about to become commonplace in offices?

From an employee attraction/retention perspective, the study also found that a third of the group would consider workspace design and architecture when choosing a company to work for. It seems biophilic design can shape the future of an organisation in more ways than originally thought.

Making your workspace green and great

It is well worth reflecting upon the key findings of the Human Spaces report for insight:

  • Natural light availability impacted positively on three key criteria: wellbeing, productivity and creativity.
  • Views of the external world – particularly water, wildlife and greenery if possible – were essential.
  • An absence of a window view was generally reflected in decreased productivity and creativity.
  • Colours were important: greens and blues enhanced employee happiness and output as opposed to plain and white spaces.

These four points are all reflected in the changing nature of workspace design in 2016 and beyond. As 360 Degrees reports, “everything from stripped-back wooden flooring and natural-wood desk tops, through to indoor hanging baskets instead of wall graphics and even water features” are being incorporated into contemporary workplace architecture.

And while these are quite extreme examples – and certainly not relevant to all organisations – it is worth adopting this kind of mindset when considering a workspace revolution.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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