Human Spaces

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Human Spaces Global Report

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Global Research into Biophilic Design

The Human Spaces report into The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace is the first study to take a global perspective of the current state of workplace design, the effect that existing design practises are having on workers, and how making a change by bringing nature into the workplace can have a significant impact.

One of the most crucial findings to emerge from the analysis is that a third (33%) of all respondents in the global study say that the design of an office would affect their decision to work for a company.

This latest data further confirms the role that biophilia can play as part of an employer’s brand; a growing area of focus for businesses competing for talent. According to Backhaus and Tikoo10, employer branding “represents a firm’s efforts to promote, both within and outside the firm, a clear view of what makes it different and desirable as an employer”. While those efforts include core elements like remuneration and personal development, our survey results demonstrate clearly that office design is also a part of the mix.

Over ten years ago, a US study11 found that only 22% of workers quoted the physical environment as a key desirable factor when looking for a new role. Our new research shows that this has grown to 27% in the US, compared to the global figure of 33%. This global figure is significantly impacted by data from India, Indonesia and the Philippines, with 67%, 62% and 60% of workers, respectively, being significantly influenced by workplace design.

When the same question was put to workers in the EMEA study, only 23% of respondents said the design of an office would affect their decision to work for a company. It’s possible to attribute this difference to the increase in awareness about the benefits of design factors, although it may be due to cultural differences in employee expectations surrounding their workplace and what it provides. Regardless of the differences, the statistics across all countries are significant and relevant, as they demonstrate workplace design has a definite impact on workers’ perception of an organization.

For organizations with ambitions to lead their market and compete for the most valuable employees, biophilic design can create a clear point of difference, alongside other elements of the employer brand.

Many of the largest global businesses have renowned office environments that are not only part of an external brand, but can also help to deliver a positive employee experience. The foremost of these environments have entered popular culture – for example, Google’s ‘Googleplex’ and the Apple campus at ‘1 Infinite Loop’. The impact of this type of expansive approach is reflected in a number of independent studies showing an increase in both productivity and employee retention as the result of environment transformation at work. Anthony Ravitz, leader of the “Green Team” at Google, talks about their efforts to measure productivity. For them, this isn’t just how quickly you can do a task or even how well you can do it, it’s about how you feel when you are doing it and if you have the energy to play with your kids when you get home at the end of the day.

A number of previous case studies concerning biophilic design, such as the Genzyme example included in this report, have focused on well-being and productivity gains following redesign or new builds. No major studies, however, have been conducted into subsequent changes in employee attraction, and this would represent an area of interest for further investigation.

What our research does show, is that natural light hits the top of the list for the most wanted element within the workplace. However, a huge 47% of workers say that they have no natural light within their work environment. The countries with the greatest percentage of workers reporting that their office does not provide natural light were the UK (66%) and the US (64%). Interestingly, natural light was the number one requested element in the workplace in both countries, much more than any other element of design.

Similarly, elements representative of the natural world, such as indoor plants and natural colors like green, blue and brown, also made the top five, yet 58% of workers report having no greenery, in the form of plants, within their work environment.

The disparity between the preferences for natural elements within the workplace and what is actually present highlights the prevalence of this issue across the globe. It would seem that a great number of organizations are failing to provide their workers with a connection to nature, evidenced by the data that shows workers lack natural light and plants in their office space. The implications of this, in addition to the tangible benefits gained when nature is brought into the workplace, are explored in the following sections of the report. We break down the impact of being connected to nature in the workplace into three key areas: the impact on employee well-being; productivity; and creativity.

The research findings allow us insight into this human connection with nature and the influence of well-designed workspaces. The range of responses also allows us to make comparisons between different cultures, geographical regions and stages of economic development to propose their likely impact on employee preferences and the degree to which individuals are affected by those preferences.

Comment from Cary

Looking at a snapshot of global working environments, up to one in five people have no natural elements within their workspace and alarmingly nearly 50% of workers have no natural light. Yet a third of us say that workplace design would affect our decision to join a company. There’s a big disparity here, and one that hints at workplace design only recently rising to prominence as a crucial factor. For the organizations that focus on their spaces, and work hard to deliver meaningful, inspiring workplaces, the dividends are made clear in this study. Performance jumps, as does creativity. Yet, there are no off-the-shelf templates for the utopian work environment. Incorporate biophilia, yes, but listen to your people to make sure their preferences and ideals are reflected too.

Psychological Responses

In addition to surveying workers about the presence of natural elements in the workspace, we also asked people to report on their emotional state at various points throughout the day. This enabled us to examine the immediate psychological impact of biophilic design elements upon the individual when they first enter their workspace. The results (see table below) show clearly that workers entering environments that welcome workers with natural greenery are much happier and inspired. This places emphasis on the importance of creating as natural a work environment as possible in order to evoke these positive feelings among employees. In contrast, we also find that workers who do not have greenery within their work environment feel more anxious and sometimes bored when they enter the workplace.

The table below presents the percentage of respondents (N=7600) that report feeling happy, inspired, anxious or bored when entering workplaces that either do or do not provide internal green spaces.

Comment from Steelcase, leading office furniture manufacturer:

“Well-being is made tangible through the workspace – this isn’t simply about work environments with better ergonomics or more comfort. We believe that the workplace can be a place where people actually leave healthier than when they arrive in the morning.”

Nancy Hickey (Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer).

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