Human Spaces

Spaces designed with the human in mind

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Human Spaces Report

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Unique research into biophilic design

Led by Professor Sir Cary Cooper, Robertson Cooper has studied the impact of work environments for the past 15 years, collecting a significant weight of research and real data from within organisations that links job conditions to performance and well-being. Just as management styles and workloads determine people’s experience at work, so can their physical surroundings. For businesses looking to perfect that experience, biophilia is increasingly a clear area of focus and investment.

Existing research into the impact of biophilia in the workplace demonstrates tangible benefits for individuals and their organisations. Contact with nature and design elements which mimic natural materials have been shown to positively impact health, job performance and concentration, and to reduce anxiety and stress. In turn, there are proven links between work environments exhibiting biophilic design and lower staff turnover and sickness absence rates.

Although these benefits have all been comprehensively proven in isolated studies, there are few if any cross-country studies that examine the preferences of individual employees in terms of biophilic design and the impact of meeting those preferences. Building on Robertson Cooper’s expertise in workplace psychology, this new research study examines real perspectives from real people, making tangible links between natural elements in the workplace and the way they make us feel.

The new study is also significant in surveying employees from across Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). Collecting responses from the UK, United Arab Emirates (UAE), France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Denmark, the research quantifies the benefits of biophilic design, specifically for well-being and productivity, and also provides a practical introduction to how to achieve those benefits. In doing so, the study adds to the existing evidence base and provides a blueprint for natural, high performing organisations.

Sample Demographics

  • 3600 employees from eight countries (UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Denmark and UAE)
  • 52% of the sample were female
  • Largest proportion of respondents worked for the government or in public services (23%)
  • Most respondents worked in either a town (32%) or a city centre (31%)
  • Largest proportion of respondents fell in the age bracket of 35-44 (30%)
  • Largest proportion of respondents spent 30-39 hours a week at work (38%)

Headline EMEA stats

  • 30% of EMEA office workers said their workspace does not provide a sense of light and space
  • A third (33%) of respondents reported they do not have a quiet space to work in when at the office
  • 40% of EMEA office workers said they felt most productive at work at their own desk in a solitary office
  • 31% of respondents said they felt most productive at work at their own desk in a open plan office
  • Over two thirds (67%) of respondents said the design of a company’s office would not affect their decision to work there but researchers suggest that there is a subconscious draw towards natural environments
  • Sustainable (30%) and minimalist (29%) were the building designs EMEA office workers reported to inspire them the most
  • 7% of respondents had no window view in their workspace
  • White and grey were the most commonly used office colours
  • Only 45% of EMEA office workers had live plants in the office

Comment from Cary

“We can see here a general deficiency in the provision of nature contact in the workplace with many EMEA office workers going without what we can consider the basics such as windows and natural light. This is concerning in the modern work environment where the employee’s workspace is recognised as essential to their well-being and performance. In the existing literature we can see the positive impact that natural elements can have on individuals and so here we intend to summarise this research and combine it with real employee insights into how these connections are presented in the workplace.”

Integrating Nature into the Workplace

We know there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems, so how does integrating nature into the workplace lead to positive organisational, psychological and physical health benefits? Biophilic design brings offices to life, and goes far beyond the practical benefits of a single plant recycling air behind the reception desk of a high-rise building.

Much research into biophilia supports the positive impact that this nature contact can have. Studies have shown the diversity of that impact includes increasing a customer’s willingness to spend more in a retail environment, increasing academic performance amongst school children and even reducing anxiety and stress before medical procedures.

In the workplace we are concerned with biophilic design in relation to employee outcomes, specifically in the areas of well-being, productivity and creativity. Our cross-country findings show that natural elements in the workplace are determinants of these three aspects. The research has shown that overall, those with natural elements present in their workspace report higher levels of creativity, motivation and well-being. The findings can be integrated to provide practical insights into modern workspace design, for example internal green space and natural light are positively linked to greater productivity and those with live plants in the office reported higher levels of well-being than those without. These findings are reflected by the top five elements that EMEA office workers reported as desired additions to their workspace.

New Research Findings

Sustainable’ (30%) was most often cited as the style of building design that would inspire at work.

Incorporating natural elements into the built environment not only reflects the aesthetic benefits of the outside world, it provides a rich environment for individuals that encourages interaction. Existing research on biophilia shows that people exposed to natural elements are more energised by their surroundings, feel less stressed and have improved attention spans5. Recently, white papers such as ‘The Economics of Biophilia’ have demonstrated that using natural materials and evoking nature within a workspace are not extravagances, but a way to increase profits and make hard cost-savings. To examine this existing evidence base in detail, and to supplement it with our own new research, the paper will split into sections, each focussing on one of three key business outcomes that can be leveraged with biophilic design; well-being, productivity and creativity. In addition, we will draw links with elements of organisational psychology and behaviour that can help organisations to place biophilic design within their wider strategies for people and performance.

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