Can Biophilic Design Make us More Productive?

Biophilia literally means “love of nature”, and “Biophilic Design” is a new term we predict you will hear crop up again and again over the next few years. So how does Biophilic Design actually work and how does it relate to offices and productivity? Well, it’s got quite a tangible link actually, with statistics which might shock you (or not).

Firstly let's dispel the myths. Oliver Heath who runs an eponymous design agency and is a specialist in biophilic design is keen to point out that it is more than just plants and bringing greenery into the office (although this one aspect of it). That’s one of the mistakes people make, but the whole concept is about much more.

Also, biophilic design isn’t just about sustainability, in terms of recycling and reduced consumption of materials and reduced waste etc. It is connected with sustainability in terms of how people can use the space and the longevity of the space though. Oliver Heath states that “Biophilic design is about designing buildings and spaces which suit human needs”.

Watch the full interview with Oliver Heath

Included under the umbrella term of biophilic design is included every aspect of bringing nature into work, in a multitude of different formats including (but not limited to):

- Fresh Air — natural daylight — access to sunlight — the views out of the window and around the office — fresh water — colour and texture on the walls flowers, plants and natural features — the areas around the office in which people walk — the use of natural materials like wood — agile working opportunities

So when you see this list you can start to see the tangible links to everyday life in an office. Do you have a nice view out of your window (if you have one)? Do you get out of the building and go for walks, or have meetings in the park? Do you have colour on your walls? Are you able to move to different spaces in the office for different types of work?

If you look at the list above and think to yourself that you don’t have access to any of these (or very few), then the chances are that your office will have a higher number of sick days, a higher proportion of people suffering from mental health issues, a higher number of people with physical problems, and a much lower rate of productivity and an unhappy workforce who don’t enjoy coming into their workspace.

Oliver Heath has been working on research with a company called Interface, which studies the impact simple biophilic measures have on people on a day to day basis. And this is where the remarkable statistics need to be mentioned. Students in schools with increased exposure to sunlight Increased the speed of learning by 25%, improved attendance by 3 days a year and improved test scores by 5% — 14%. In the office, workers with the best possible view had increased mental recall by between 10%-25% (which means access to nature directly affects your memory), also offices with natural feature like plants have reduced their absenteeism by 15% (a big deal because absenteeism creates a big cost to employers).

Oliver has been looking at ways to connect people to nature and cut through the busy, noisy and stressful life of a city “as a means to create spaces which are more calming, more restful, where we experience less stress, but also help us to recuperate from periods of physical and mental fatigue.” He has created guides which offer solutions to companies at various different budget levels, on how to create more “human-centred” workspaces, which can be found on the Oliver Heath Design website.

These guides are important because in one study conducted by Interface, with 7000 people over 16 countries, it found that 47% of those people had no access to natural daylight at their desk, and 58% didn’t have any plants. But those workers who did have natural features self-reported a 50% increase in their wellbeing — that means they noticed themselves feeling happier, less stressed and better holistically. These statistics might shock, or you might be sitting there thinking “that makes total sense”. Whilst you’re working from home you will have access to all of the elements mentioned to create a productive and happy workspace, but the time has come to start considering what might need to change when you get back to the office.

So although the term biophilic design is something new, which might seem “trendy”, in fact, the philosophy behind it is similar to that suggested by our other experts. They have all suggested the inclusion of natural features, increased access to light and air, colour and texture on the walls and agile working options. They might be on to something.

Katie Henry is the Director of Art in Offices and is a passionate advocate for making workspaces more enriching and fulfilling through using good design and art