The science supporting biophilic design is still developing. However, some may say that this field of research is really just a re-emergence of what people have known for centuries – humans have an innate affinity for, and a deep connection with, the natural environment.
Throughout this report, the benefits of providing workers with access to nature-inspired elements in the workplace have been justified. Yet despite this, the global research we have engaged in shows a vast deficiency in the provision of even the most basic biophilic needs, such as natural light and views of nature.
It is likely that for some organizations, providing natural light and window views may not be feasible within the constraints of their current building design. Yet there are ways of mimicking nature indoors and arranging the office that can still deliver the same benefits as the real thing. Research has shown that effectively re-creating nature indoors can reduce stress and restore energy levels with the same degree of impact as real contact with nature46. However, it is still important to note that real living nature contact results in significantly stronger physiological responses than simulated nature (Kahn et al., 2008).
In their article on the 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design, Browning, Ryan & Clancy describe a non-visual connection with nature as one of the ways in which humans’ biophilic needs can be met. They note that a space with a good non-visual connection with nature feels fresh and balanced – the space should provide complexity and variability as well as being familiar and comfortable. Additionally, by providing sounds, aromas and textures that are reminiscent of being outdoors, we are able to provide a symbolic connection to nature. This is backed by research48 showing that following exposure to a stressor, nature sounds can accelerate psychological restoration by up to 37%.
Effective ways of creating symbolic nature connections indoors include: water features with free flowing water; natural plants; the use of natural elements, such as wood and stone; providing natural ventilation (for example, operable windows and breezeways); and using highly textured fabrics that mimic the textures of natural materials.
Ultimately, the research in this area indicates that bringing elements of nature into the workplace, whether real or artificial, provides positive effects on employee outcomes. As such, when thinking about office design and its impact on employees, employers should take serious consideration of the amount of nature contact provided in the workspace in order to both maintain positive levels of well-being among employees and keep employee performance at optimal levels. Specifically, our research has shown that various nature elements can have a positive impact on the individual employee and the most important of these globally tend to be the provision of natural light, a window and greenery within the office space.
The Human Spaces global research study has shown that indeed there are many benefits to providing this nature contact. To not provide it may be potentially damaging to organizations. Many respondents, a third (33%) in fact, reported that they would be affected by workplace design when choosing to work for a company. This emphasizes how an individual’s surrounding environment can directly influence how they feel about the organization which will inevitably influence their feelings and behaviors when they are working. Therefore, providing workers with an environment that they are comfortable and happy within is likely to go a long way in increasing well-being and productivity, as well as contributing to the retention of staff and reducing employee turnover.
Finally, it is important to note the impact of culture in the realm of workplace biophilic design. The global nature of this study has allowed a broad range of countries and regions across the globe to be investigated and analyzed in terms of employee preferences for biophilic design and how elements of this design may have differing impacts on various employee outcomes. It has been clearly demonstrated that cultural differences do exist, suggesting that these preferences may even be found at the organizational or individual level. Therefore, it is crucial for organizations and designers to carefully consider these differences in order to ensure that the work environment they create is optimal for a high-performing, happy and healthy workforce.