Biophilic Workspaces. What Are They & How Do They Affect Productivity?

29 Oct 2018

Category: Eco

First of all, what does Biophilic exactly mean?

‘Biophilia’, in simple terms, is the love of life and natural things. It is why we enjoy spending time at the beach or in the countryside. It is why a garden view can help us work.

There is a hypothesis (the BET) that suggests all humans have an innate need to be near nature. Edward O. Wilson brought this debate to popular culture in 1984. In recent years, studies have applied the BET to interior design. Studies have been made into how workspaces with increased greenery, light or nature influence, affect productivity.

These results have shaped how modern workspaces are designed to this day.

Workplaces were often previously designed with no thought to biophilia. Efficient use of space was given priority over decoration or greenery. This resulted in years of cramped, drab offices, with little attention to decoration.

These poorly designed offices were found to have detrimental effects on productivity. It heavily contributed to the issues of disengaged employees. Disengagement alone is believed to have cost the US between $450 billion and $550 billion, each year. That figure is calculated from lost productivity from disengaged employees.

Tim Oldman of the Leesman Index found only 53% of people polled thought their offices supported productivity.

So, how could offices be made more supportive for productivity?

It wasn’t until the mid-90s that environmental psychologists promoted natural workspaces. Stephen Kaplan endorsed ‘Attention Restoration Theory’. This theory stated that concentration improved following exposure to nature.

Studies have been made to test how exposure to nature and light really does affect productivity.

Kansas University conducted a study that sent students into the American wilderness for 4-6 days. Back to nature, they were completely immersed in wildlife. Upon returning, their lateral thinking (creativity) was re-tested. It had improved by 50%!

Terrapin has produced a guidebook to biophilic design. They add that other benefits to a greener environment also can:

  • Reduce stress
  • Enhance creative thought
  • Improve clarity of thinking
  • Positively affect well-being
  • Expedite healing
  • Increase happiness with thermal conditions

Obviously, offices in urban landscapes are limited with how they can design their workspaces. An outdoor, natural workspace might be great for productivity – but it would never work in England! However, it has been proved that even small exposures reap great benefits.

A view of nature (a plant for example) for just 10 minutes prior to experiencing a mental stressor has shown to greatly help. Just as viewing a natural scene following a mental stressor, helps brain activity to a relaxed state.

So, know you know the benefits – how can you implement biophilic design to a workspace?

For some easy to implement tips, look no further:

  • Introduce houseplants to your office. They make your workspace a more concentrated, creative place! You can pick them up for cheap from many shops now. They look great too, and are a quick, easy way of introducing some nature to the office.
  • Let there be light! Light is another big part of biophilic design. If you feel close to light, you feel closer to nature and the outdoors. Make the most of the available natural light in your workspace. Harsh, superficial lighting is not a good for working conditions. Offices with natural light have additional benefits. These benefits include:

Better sleep. Offices with natural light have been proven to to have better night’s sleep – who doesn’t want that?

  • Fewer energy costs
  • Better moods
  • Less eye strain
  • Increased productivity

Of course, not all offices are not blessed with natural light. However, given all the benefits, it might be worth in the long run to invest!

  • Introduce a lunchtime “walking club”. Obviously whilst a 4 day trek like Kansas University trialled wouldn’t work in every business – a short walk would have similar effects. If you’re at a sitting desk job this would be especially helpful. It would re-energise you for the afternoon and get the blood moving around. Just a 20-30 minute walk outside, around the block. It would be a great exercise initiative too and for team-building.
  • Ensure urban noises are blocked out. Sound is a big influence on productivity. Studies into biophilic design have proved that natural sounds are beneficial. They can reduce cognitive fatigue and help motivation. However, playing whale noises on a speaker might not be everyone’s cup of tea! To be safe, the best option is to safeguard bleeding sound that might occur from the road. If you’re in an office building, that might mean installing double-glazing to reduce traffic noises.
  • Use, when possible, natural materials. The big one here is reduce your plastic usage! Part of being a biophilic space naturally goes hand in hand with being a “green” space. Be as environmentally friendly as possible. Ban or try reduce single use plastic. Encourage refillable bottles, have cups and mugs on offer to reduce coffee cups brought in.

If you’re after more inspiration: Take a leaf from the following companies, who ranked the highest for best workspaces by the British Council for Houses.

Bloomberg, in London, was awarded ‘Best of the Best’ and ‘Corporate Workplace’. It was also given the highest BREEAM score of any building to date. BREEAM is the world’s leading sustainable assessment. This means the workplace is one of the most sustainable in the world! There is a huge rooftop light bathing the entire building in natural light. The building also delivers a 73% saving in water consumption – through rain collecting roof infrastructure, and the installation of our very own Billi taps.

Two other workplaces on the list also have Billi taps installed.  ‘Here East’, London and ‘Innovation’, White Collar London.

How do Billi taps contribute to a sustainable, biophilic workspace?

  • By providing filtered water from the tap. Therefore, any need to buy filtered water (in plastic bottles) is eliminated.
  • They provide long-term energy saving solutions
  • Water units are more efficient than kettles. They require only 0.40-kilowatt hours (kWh) compared with 0.42k-kilowatt.
  • Instant boiling water meet GBd (Green Building design) objectives. Since it is poured on a needs basis, there is none of the waste of a kettle.

To take steps towards making a workspace more sustainable, why not install a Billi tap!