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The biophilic office, what it is and why it works

Large companies, such as Microsoft, Amazon and Google, are now adopting a biophilic design within the workspace to increase employee functionality and productivity, while simultaneously creating a working environment that positively affects their well-being. Let's see below what a biophilic office is and why it works.

This relationship between man and nature has been called biophilia and is the biological evolution of millions of years. However, the modern and rapid urbanization (for most part) of the planet has led humanity to distance itself from nature.

What is biophilia?
Biophilia is a term derived from the Greek language meaning "love of living objects". The biophilic design of buildings and office interiors, is the architect’s commitment to bringing the benefits of nature into buildings.For decades, psychologists and sociologists have tried to explain man's innate desire to connect with nature. This relationship between man and nature has been called biophilia and is the biological evolution of millions of years. However, the modern and rapid urbanization (for most part) of the planet has led humanity to distance itself from nature


What is a biophilic design?

In today's society, the biophilic design can be integrated into various sectors, such as health care, retail, education and of course, office space.

We also have the ability to understand the current impact that biophilia has on the economy. Research has proven that spaces that are structured not to include any form of nature, may lead to negative consequences for human health, child development, social security and job satisfaction.
All of the above are directly related to the benefits of business, society, but also health.

A misconception concerning the biophilic design is that it is limited to enriching the space with plants and shrubs. But a biophilic office design is more than that.

A biophilic office should aim to increase natural light, use different colors and combine different natural materials such as wood, metal, and stone. The biophilic office design is complete when complimented with the presence of plants, such as the creation of "living" walls.
Particularly, living walls are the new trend in building design and contribute to thermal insulation and purification of the atmosphere.
Ultimately, it has been proven that natural elements, when transported within the workplace, improve well-being and the overall health of employees.



How the biophilic design reduces labor costs in the corporate environment

The University of Oregon (Elzeyadi, 2011) conducted a study on the biophilic hypothesis* when it is applied to an administrative office establishment. The study concluded that workers who had a view of trees and greenery were not only more satisfied than those who had a view of the street or buildings or had no view at all, but also their own behavior in the office had improved.
Employees who had a view of greenery requested 57 hours of sick leave in the duration of one year, as opposed to the rest who asked for 68 hours.

In another example, a call center in California invested $1,000 (€ 877) in each employee to ensure that all employees had access to the provided view. Their productivity savings were estimated at $2,990 (€ 2,606) for each employee.
By placing greenery and plants in the workspace oxygen levels increased, which in turn increased employee concentration.

Furthermore, the biophilic design has been shown to improve productivity, creativity, well-being as well as maintaining employee skillset.

In the past, the prevailing concept was that empty spaces were the ideal place to increase productivity, because nothing would distract employees, who would hypothetically remain more focused on their work. However, recent research has disproved this theory.

Undoubtedly a biophilic office design requires a larger initial investment when compared to a simple office building design, however it has immediate benefits on health and productivity.
Research has also found that people who work in a more natural environment tend to take their breaks within their office area. Thus, the biophilic design has a direct correlation to employee satisfaction.

Six principles of the biophilic office

These are the six basic principles for a most effective design of a biophilic office.
1. Environmental elements: natural elements such as plants, warm earthy tones, liquid elements, natural light, animals and natural materials.
2. Natural shapes and forms: architecture consisting of curved lines, arches and domes.
3. Natural patterns and processes: stimuli that fuse experiences by igniting the senses or that signal the passage of time. For example. different lighting for different times of the day.
4. Natural light: increased use of light in all its forms - warm, cool, with shapes or filters – which varies depending on the use of each space.
5. Association of space with history: placing the office space within the framework of a larger picture, intertwined with history, culture, geography or spirituality.
6. Human-nature relationship: elements that reflect how our relationship with nature has been shaped. A subtle invitation of curiosity, connection, awe, discovery and shelter.

The general benefits of the biophilic design

In the post-pandemic era, work and workplaces are set to change dramatically. To date we note increasing feelings of stress and loneliness in individuals, as a result of reduced interaction between colleagues and clients. Contact with biophilic elements can reduce stress, blood pressure and stabilize heart rate, making a direct impact on employee performance.

Individuals gain greater job satisfaction and feel more connected to the workplace. For the company in the long run, this translates to healthier, happier, motivated employees.  
All of the above lead with mathematical precision to skill maintenance as well as the minimization of absences.

Large companies design biophilic workplaces

A number of companies have now adopted a more biophilic approach to their workplaces.
Three glass domes ("Spheres") have been built in Amazon's new Seattle office, covering a forest of 40,000 plants.

Exposure to natural elements is known to make people happier and healthier.

The International Living Future Institute windows are wide and employees have more access to natural light and views of the outdoors. The aura created by ventilation systems helps maintain staff alert.

These office spaces include corridors that excite employee curiosity and highlight an "exploratory" attitude, which also contributes to the improvement of their physical condition. Finally, the element of water helps to reduce stress and blood pressure.

Inside the Etsy offices, one of the largest companies in online retail business, employees sit in chairs that resemble a cocoon which is just another way of getting in touch with nature.

According to Google when employees are exposed to more natural light and other biophilic elements then they feel more focused, more creative and are therefore more productive.

Difficulties of the biophilic design

Although humanity wants to return to a more natural world, modern life seems to prevent it. Recent economic and social changes have distanced people from all things green. 55% of the world's population lives in urban areas. According to the United Nations, that percentage is expected to reach 68% by 2050.
As cities become densely populated, builders and architects will have to face increased demands for more workspace and most companies will opt for minimalistic designs, which offer more space and fit more offices - employees. However, this is a short-term solution, which will ultimately damage people's productivity and welfare.

According to a Harvard Business Review, 47% of employees feel tired due to lack of natural light, while 43% feel melancholic. Similarly, further research has shown that potted plants can lower blood pressure and stress.
Biophilic planning is becoming more and more important, because stress-related disorders are increasing daily.

Businesses need to consider how to maintain a biophilic environment and how to assess the potential risk of increasing allergic symptoms. Additionally, as also explained above, as a whole, a biophilic design and the natural elements it introduces to the workplace are beneficial in many ways.

The use of sunlight and natural or green elements will not only improve the appearance of the workspace, it will also make employees more creative, productive and happy.

At Vios we have integrated all research and scientific data on biophilic design, making us the first biophilic co-working workspace in Greece.

Come and meet us in the center of Athens and witness the future of work at first hand.