Employees spend many of their waking hours at work. The office is like a home away from home, so it is important that employees feel like they are at home while they are there. If you have ever worked in a building that boasts furniture representative of a 1980s sitcom or has decor that is discolored, worn, and tattered, then you know it can lower the morale in the office and make people less productive. When employees are proud of their workspace, they are often times more willing to go above and beyond the call of duty, which translates into better productivity all around. Improve office life, motivate your employees and give them a workspace that feels more like a home with these office life altering tricks and techniques:
Update Office Furnishings
Whether your company is large or small, office facelift funds should be worked into every business budget. Presentation is an important part of the package when you are trying to generate new business and keep your current customers coming back for more. A well kept office space conveys professionalism. Employees and clients alike will feel more comfortable negotiating new deals, coming up with the next big concept, and seeing projects through to completion when they have a clean and contemporary space to work in.
The overall image of your company should be conveyed in the furnishings you select for your office space. If you wish to portray a laid-back atmosphere that fosters creativity and allows your employees to think and work freely, go with bold colors and furniture with interesting patterns and shapes. If your business is designed around helping others, choose natural earth tones and portray a look of warmth and compassion.
Get On-Board with Biophilia
Biophilia is a psychological concept that was first used in 1973 by psychoanalyst Erich Fromm who said that humans have an innate need to connect with the natural world around them, and are attracted to things that are considered to be alive and from nature.
It is a concept that is being incorporated more in shopping malls, office buildings, and other public spaces as nature calms the spirit. To engage employees and make them feel more relaxed in the workplace, incorporate landscape art, live plants, natural colors, fish tanks, water fountains, and other earthy elements.
The Little Things Do Matter
Providing simple concessions like a coffee pot and healthy snacks in the break room are little things that matter a great deal to employees. Small gestures of appreciation show employees you care and will help keep them feeling comfortable while they are at work. According to The Balance Small Business, businesses that provide free snacks and drinks to employees are the ones most likely to get the best employees in the job market.
Other gestures of appreciation you can consider to improve life in the office include giving employees gift cards to their favorite retailers for a job well done, providing a relaxing break area that includes comfortable seating, games, a TV, and some live plants for them to look after, and pumping soothing music through the airwaves to promote deep thought and reflection.
Knock Down the Walls
Open office concepts are in and promote conversation and idea sharing in the workplace. An open office concept invites employees to discuss projects and form partnerships among themselves as well as makes their supervisors more accessible to them. When the walls are knocked down, even a small office suite can take on a vast and expansive new life, letting in much more natural light for everyone to enjoy.
When designing your open office concept, remember to keep the cubicles low and try to incorporate more windows and skylights into the construction plans. If your office building needs to have individual offices for key executives to work from, position the offices so that they are in the middle of the building, allowing for lower level employees to have access to prime window seating.
In today’s job market, employees have choices when it comes to where they work, and sometimes the tipping point all comes down to the physical appearance and ambiance of the office space you provide. Give your office a facelift, let nature in, and provide employees with a few small gifts of gratitude, and you will enjoy seeing their smiling faces as they work hard to make the business boom.
First popularized by Edward O. Wilson in 1984, Biophilic design has grown to become one of modern architecture’s hottest trends. Focused on creating sustainable relationships between humans and natural elements, Biophilic design reaches beyond artificial man-made structures.
Architect Dwayne MacEwen, Principal of DMAC Architecture, best describes the emerging trend when comparing architecture to music:
“The space between the notes is where the magic is; otherwise, it’s just noise. We need that space between the notes in our everyday lives, and I think landscape elements create that.”
All around the world, architects are using Biophilic design to create, renovate and transform buildings into unique spaces and nurturing habitats. Asia in particular is stepping forward as a leader in Biophilic architecture, in a bid to address its congested cities, swelling population, global competitors, and large workforce. The below 5 biophilic buildings are some of the best examples of Biophilic design in Asia:
1. Pasona Group Offices, Japan
Designed by Kono Designs, this urban office in Tokyo, Japan has its own indoor farm. Completed in 2010, Pasona Group encourages its employees to cultivate and grow their own food. The agro-based philosophy uses both hydroponic and soil-based farming. When walking through the workspace, it is common to see personalized agricultural projects by employees. Some examples include bean sprouts growing under tables, passion fruit trees in conference rooms, and lemon trees in common areas.
2. Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, Singapore
Touted as the most Biophilic hospital in Asia, the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Singapore is a pioneer in healthcare infrastructure. The heart of this institution’s holistic environment is the green court. Imitating a lush forest, the green court includes water bodies with aquatic animals, brightly colored plants, as well as resident birds and butterflies. The blue and green spaces expand to the upper levels of the hospital as well as the basement. In fact, the total surface area dedicated to greenery is four times the actual land the hospital building sits on.
3. Panyaden School, Thailand
Drawing on its Buddhist founding principles, the Panyaden School in the Chiang Mai province of Thailand, is constructed entirely from earth and bamboo. The building is designed in the shape of a lotus, a flower which is regarded both as a symbol of Thailand and Buddhism. The most outstanding feature of this school is the sports hall. Covering an area of 782 square meters, the hall can accommodate up to 300 students, with bamboo staircases leading to viewing balconies for the spectators. It hosts sports like basketball, badminton and volleyball, as well as conducts events throughout the year. The bamboo trusses use natural ventilation and insulation to keep the sports hall consistently cool. In addition, they can withstand storms, high-speed winds, and earthquakes.
4. Keputih Boarding House, Indonesia
Located in Surabaya, the Keputih Boarding House was a finalist in the World Architecture Festival 2016 in Berlin, Germany. The boarding house is a world apart from the cramped conditions of its peers. While it is common to employ air-conditioning to escape Indonesia’s heat, the boarding house uses perforated panels for walls as well as spatial openings. The openings and panels allow natural lighting and air to circulate the main spaces, giving a sense that the house is “breathing”. Residents interact in the several communal places, the walls of which are decorated with stunning typographical prints. In addition, residents and visitors are provided with a parking space for their bicycles to stimulate both eco-consciousness and exercise.
5. An’garden Café, Vietnam
Located in Hanoi’s Hà Đông district on a former industrial site, the An’garden Café exudes vibrancy and oxygen throughout its three-story space. The eatery’s steel foundation and brick interiors incorporate a giant glass facade that floods the entire space with light. The timber roof is lined with planters with vines flowing out of them. Visitors can watch colorful koi fish swimming in a pond, or relax under the shady trees. The architectural firm Le House designed this cafe in the image of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. And it doesn’t fail to impress.
The importance of Biophilia in urban spaces is growing. The Biophilic Design Movement is in the process of transitioning from a hot architectural trend to an absolute structural component. As stated by Timothy Beatley, author of Biophilic Cities,
“Nature is not optional; it’s absolutely essential. It’s something that should be part of every day, every hour, if not every minute of people’s lives, not something you just get when you’re on vacation.”
Statistics show that there are significant advantages to incorporating Biophilic materials when designing infrastructure.
- In corporate sectors, biophilic projects led to an 8 percent rise in productivity, as well as a 13 percent increase in employee well-being.
- In schools, the rate of learning in students rose by 20 to 25 percent.
- Customers are willing to pay 8 to 12 percent more on goods and services if retail stores introduced Biophilic elements such as plants.
- In the hospitality sector, guests prefer rooms with natural views and are willing to pay 23 percent more for it.
- In the field of medicine, the recovery period for patients after an operation decreased by 8.5 percent, while the requests for pain medication dropped by 22 percent.
In order to transition your workplace into a nurturing and productive environment, you have to understand the basic features of the Biophilic design. While not all businesses can afford expensive makeovers and chic architectural projects, there are a number of simple ways in which Biophilic design can be implemented.
1. Views of Nature
When offered a choice, passengers prefer to seat at a window seat on a plane. Naturally, having a desk near a window allows employees to look outside. Workers tend to get less anxious and stressed when they have visual access to natural flora. Whether it is open skies or the falling leaves of autumn, nature has a calming effect on employees.
Example: Million Trees NYC completed planting 1 million new trees across New York City’s five boroughs. The concept of an urban forest was created to provide both ecological and health benefits to the inhabitants of the city. Everyone, from commuters to employees, can now look out and inhale a fresh breath of oxygen.
2. Pictures of Nature
Not everyone is fortunate to work in an environment which has access to natural greenery. In this case, setting up even nonliving depictions of nature can have a positive effect on employees. Stunning artwork comprising of variegated landforms, wildlife, water bodies and colorful flora not only brightens up the office decor but is also a proven mood-enhancer. After all, who doesn’t love a canvas print of a sunrise?
Example: One of the biggest advocates of marine conservation, artist Robert Wyland has transformed concrete facades into large-scale murals of dolphins and whales. He has worked on the sides of skyscrapers, sports stadiums, and others in 18 countries. Some of his famous works include Whaling Walls in Oahu and Hands Across the Oceans in Beijing.
3. Corporate Gardening
A simple way of incorporating Biophilic design is to bring plants into the workspace. Displaying succulents or flowering plants can brighten up any corner of the office. If your building has an open terrace or patio, consider planting some greenery. Gardening is known to be a great form of relaxation and helps alleviate work-related stress, depression, and anxiety.
Example: The Boston Medical Center (BMC) has set up a farm on its 7,000 square foot rooftop. During the growing season, the farm yields up to 15,000 pounds of produce which is used to stock the BMC’s food pantry. Not only does the rooftop farm help feed the patients, but it has been a source of enthusiasm for BMC employees who regularly volunteer for gardening hours.
4. Natural Light
Sunlight has many proven health benefits. It is a natural source of vitamin D. In addition, sunlight helps maintain levels of serotonin and melatonin, two hormones which are key for mood and sleep regulation. Employees who work solely under interior lighting tend to be less productive, as well as fall sick more often than their peers who have access to natural light. Propping up a window or installing skylights can go a long way in keeping your employees healthy.
Example: The Crozer-Chester Medical Center found an innovative way to bring in natural light into its interiors. The building features a dome skylight that measures 40 feet in diameter. Coated in silver color with a 70 percent PVDF mica coating, the skylight not only fills the place with sunlight but also creates an illusion of expansive space.
Biophilic design still carries the assumption of a quirky or artistic architectural experiment. But growing scientific evidence clearly states the various benefits of incorporating biophilic elements, proving that this trend of today will soon become the norm of tomorrow. As described by Executive Producer Stephen Kellert from the movie “Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life”:
“Biophilic Design is an innovative way of designing the places where we live, work, and learn. We need nature in a deep and fundamental fashion, but we have often designed our cities and suburbs in ways that both degrade the environment and alienate us from nature.”
The best place to appreciate biophilic design is in Europe’s architectural landscape, where natural elements can be found even in ancient structures built centuries ago. In addition, with growing consciousness concerning the environment, holistic living and employee rights, significant building regulations have been set in place. Keeping that in mind, modern architects are designing some of the finest examples of biophilic buildings, each project displaying unique workmanship and exquisite beauty.
1. Selgas Cano, Spain
Located in Madrid, the Spanish architecture firm Selgas Cano designed its office in the form of an aerodynamic tube, encompassing its employees with magnificent views of the beautiful forest around them.
The curving fiberglass glass wall gives the building a streamlined look and allows for natural light to enter the space. Desks lined along the wall allow employees to be level with the forest floor, while spherical lanterns light up workspaces at night. Half of the structure is submerged in the earth, which creates a natural system of insulation. This comes in handy especially during the hot summers, when the building keeps cool with no need for air conditioning.
2. Tree House Hotel, Sweden
The Tree House Hotel, also known as the Mirror Cube, is a series of tree hotels providing a one-of-a-kind experience for guests. Located close to the village of Harads, the hotel is unique for its proximity to the Arctic Circle. The brainchild of designers Tham & Videgård Arkitekter, the structure is a 4 X 4 X 4 lightweight design made of aluminum and mirrored glass. Hanging from a tree trunk, the hotel is accessed via a rope bridge connected to the next tree.
The entire structure is camouflaged by the exterior facade which reflects the surrounding forest canopy. In addition, the glass panes are laminated with a certain bandwidth of ultraviolet color. This prevents birds from colliding with the glass. The interior is made of plywood and can accommodate two guests.
3. Bosco Verticale, Italy
One of the most ambitious biophilic projects in Europe can be found in Milan. Meaning “Vertical Forest”, Bosco Verticale is an impressive solution by Italian architect Stefano Boeri to tackle the city’s air pollution. According to statistics, Milan is one of the most polluted cities in Europe.
Residential high-rises host a diverse range of flora including shrubs, small plants, and large trees. For example, the Porta Nuova Isola district has over 500 medium and large trees, 300 small trees, 5,000 shrubs and 11,000 plants. These plants have the ability to convert 44,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into oxygen on an annual basis. The trees also act a screen for dust particles, a noise filter, as well as a natural coolant. Aerial arborists regularly groom the vegetation, as well as examine the trees to ensure they are secure at heights of 400 feet high.
4. Bayerischer Hof Hotel, Germany
Designed by Jouin Manku Studio, the Bayerischer Hof Hotel in Munich exudes sophistication and class. The use of natural elements, forms, textures, and colors ensures that the hotel serves as a retreat for guests. One major highlight of the hotel is its lounge.
While soft green textures make up the walls, the flooring of the lounge is a smooth alternation between textures like carpeting, stone, and wood. The booths in the restaurant feature backlit panels carved to imitate the mountainous terrain of the Bavarian countryside. The huge floor to ceiling windows allows plenty of natural light to fill the lounge space. Guests can recline back on the wood crafted and leather bound furniture while enjoying the robust curvaceous fireplace. In addition, the terrace provides breathtaking views of the city and the mountains.
5. Juvet Landscape Hotel, Norway
Juvet Landscape Hotel is Europe’s first landscape hotel. Blending elements of Norwegian culture, history and contemporary architecture, the hotel is a product of traditional building ideas and craftsmanship.
Located in Burtigarden farm at Alstad in rural Norway, the hotel consists of nine rooms situated on separate sites. Seven of the rooms are landscape rooms, and are essentially “cubes” on stilts, with glass walls that provide stunning views of the valley and gorge. While the rooms feature dark interiors to avoid detracting from the scenery, the bathroom receives sunlight even in the heart of winter. Guests can also enjoy the on-site spa designed to mimic a cave with flowing water, as well as communal meals at the restored farmhouse.
According to the United Nations World Cities Report, 60 percent of the world’s population will live in urban environments by the year 2030. That means 1 in 3 people will reside in cities with a population of at least half a million. As a result, architects, scientists, and organizations are working together. They are studying the dynamics of the human-nature connection. In addition, how this connection can be incorporated into the concrete jungle. The answer to this challenge is biophilic design.
As defined by the International Living Future Institute:
“Biophilic design is the practice of connecting people and nature within our built environments and communities.”
An analysis of the data collected by the Labor Department revealed that the average U.S. employee works 1,811.16 hours every year. An estimated 40 percent work more than 50 hours a week, while 20 percent work more than 60 hours per week. This means that employees spend a lot of time in the office. Maybe even more than they do so at home. As a result, companies are increasingly focusing on providing an office design that creates a holistic, productive and collaborative atmosphere for their employees.
In 2014, the EMEA (Europe, Middle East & Africa) Human Spaces Report analyzed the impact of biophilic design across eight countries. Recently, the second wave of data was collected on workers in 16 countries. Statistics on workers in office environments with natural elements, such as greenery and sunlight, reveal the following:
- 85 percent of the workers surveyed were employed in an urban environment.
- Workers who functioned in airy, well-lit and green spaces, reported 15 percent higher levels of well being as well as lower levels of stress than their counterparts.
- Offices that incorporated biophilic elements increased their productivity by 6 percent.
- Employees’ ability to think, innovate and perform creatively increased by 15 percent.
Some of the first organizations to jump on board the biophilic design philosophy are big weights such as Apple and Amazon. In doing so, they have helped make the movement mainstream through high profile successful projects.
Amazon’s new office in downtown Seattle features three glass and steel domes occupying a forest area of 40,000 plants. Known as the ‘Spheres’, the glass orbs have been an instant hit with employees. From the 4,000 square foot living wall to the 55 foot high treetops, Amazon has created its own unique urban workplace ecosystem.
As part of its outdoor districts in its Redmond campus, Microsoft has built three treehouses to empower its employees to work and interact in new ways. Created by renowned builder Pete Nelson, the treehouses feature unique details. This includes weatherproof benches, rustproof rocking chairs, charred wood walls, and skylights.
Compared to a UFO, Apple Park has aptly been nicknamed the ‘Spaceship’. One of the most energy-efficient buildings in the world, this architectural wonder in Cupertino, California is fitted with solar panels and has its own on-site low carbon central plant. The landscaping includes more than 7,000 trees including indigenous plants of the Mojave Desert and apricot orchards.
While the majority cannot afford grand projects, there are some simple principles which can be easily incorporated into any workplace.
- Increase accessibility to natural light and views of the outside to boost employee productivity.
- Use outdoor spaces like roofs and balconies to create creative working spaces for employees.
- Experiment with bright, vibrant colors like orange and blue.
- Utilize natural textures like wood and stone that imitate the outdoors.
- Bring in plants to increase oxygen levels, which in turn brings down mental fatigue.
- Avoid congested, cramped spaces, and keep the office design open and airy.
In conclusion, biophilic design marks a revolution in office architecture. With scientific backing, it proves that architecture makes a difference in workplace health, employee productivity, project teamwork, and stress management. In the words of Amanda Sturgeon, biophilic design expert, and CEO of International Living Future Institute:
“What could we learn from what makes us love being outside and incorporate it into the design of our buildings?”