Will biophilic design entice workers back to the office?

Survey shows people make fewer mistakes surrounded by green space

Will biophilic design entice workers back to the office?

Numerous surveys have shown that many remote workers do not want to come back to the office.

One big reason? Employers are providing the same environment that people working from home already have.

As a result, simply dictating that workers need to come back to the office is not the way to go, according to Aki Soundunsaari, co-founder of Naava, provider of biophilic office design.

“Offices and workplaces need to offer something more than the home office does — this is really crucial,” he says. “People need to have a reason to go to the office.”

Biophilic design

A biophilic office design might help, says Soundunsaari, who is based in Helsinki.

“Biophilic design is an approach to how you can design indoor spaces, or cities and whatnot, in a way that [workers can be] with nature not against it, or in tandem with nature, not against it. 

Three-quarters of those who have returned to the workplace say they want a more environmentally friendly office with green spaces and eco-friendly practices, according to a previous report. 

Biophilic design is not just about having plants, he says. 

“It’s natural light, it’s pattern of nature, it's wooden tables, it's everything that you can find in nature,” says Soundunsaari. “[It’s about] the basic necessities of humans as a biological creature.”

Being in nature is ingrained in humans, says Soundunsaari. And it was a huge part of our history.

“If you think about human evolution, we've been living in forests and caves and whatnot for the last 300,000 years or 200,000+ years,” he says. “If you look at the last 50 years, we are living in these kinds of sealed boxes where we are locking nature out from our buildings, more or less.”

Other things that employers should consider include ergonomic chairs and spaces for digital and in-person meetings, he says.

‘Huge impact’ on productivity, creativity

For employers, there are lots of benefits to investing in an office with biophilic design, says Soundunsaari.

For one, when performing stress-inducing cognitive tasks in the presence of green walls with living plants, workers make 43 per cent fewer mistakes compared to when performing the same tasks in a control room with no green walls, according to a Naava report.

“We are much more creative and smarter outdoors. In nature, we think more clearly, solve problems more efficiently, and are less prone to stress factors,” he says.

“There's no question, from a science point of view, that it has a huge impact on your concentration, memory, productivity, cognitive performance, energy levels, happiness, immune system, creativity, motivation and so on. And it lowers stress, anxiety, sick leaves, fatigue, headaches, pain, feeling of isolation and so on. The reason is that [being in nature] is in our biology.”

An earlier study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston also suggested natural elements indoors could help reduce workers’ stress while improving their creativity.

Eco-friendly popular

Workers have been wanting their workplace to be more eco-friendly even before the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Citing a Harvard Business Review survey of 1,600 workers back in 2019, Naava notes that people want the following in their office:

  • good air quality (58 per cent)
  • comfortable light (50 per cent)
  • a connection to nature (30 per cent)
  • comfortable acoustics (30 per cent).

To implement a biophilic design in an office, it’s about asking: “What are the basic human needs that you can improve?” says Soundunsaari.

“Get enough fresh air. Make sure that the ventilation works well. Provide as much natural light as possible. So don't close the windows, and so on.”

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