Why Biophilic Office Design is More Important Now Than Ever

Design Jun 26 2020

2020 will be a year to remember, but not for good reasons. The COVID-19 pandemic and our retreat into home isolation have given us a heightened awareness of the role our surroundings play in our health and wellbeing. As much as offices can spread disease, if operated smartly, they can also help us fight against it. What should the offices be like after the pandemic has ended?  We discussed a few key points in our blog on Safe workplaces.


There is a popular Chinese saying which translates to “A crisis is also a turning point.” The modern workplace has not faced a crisis like this before and we are now at a turning point. Amidst this chaos, one thing is clear: We will all go back to work with new expectations. Especially now, we can't discount the essential element of biophilic design. 


Studies show we spend 90 percent of our time indoors and a majority of the time is spent in offices. There is so much opportunity to improve our offices by incorporating the principles of biophilia, biophilic design, and including nature into our everyday lives for our health and wellbeing. In this article, we discuss how biophilia will take on renewed importance as employees make greater connections between their environment and their health.

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What is Biophilic design?


It was a concept first developed in 1984 when Harvard University myrmecologist and conservationist Edward O. Wilson realized increasing urbanization was creating a dangerous disconnect between humans and nature. He called this theory biophilia, based on the idea that humans have an “innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes”. It's not only instinctive but also healthy.


“Biophilia is the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms”

– E. O. Wilson


Biophilic design is a means of achieving this in spaces where nature wouldn't otherwise be available. It introduces nature – real or mimicked – to counteract the stresses of the built environment. Based on Wilson's idea, pioneers like Stephen Kellert suggested that introducing natural elements to offices, workspaces, shops, and hospitals would improve health, wellbeing, and productivity.

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Ducky chair and Balance table


It's much more than just adding plants


Biophilic design is a complex discipline and requires a careful approach. It is used within the building industry to increase occupant connectivity to the natural environment through the use of direct nature, indirect nature, and space and place conditions. It also includes specific color arrangements, new types of furniture, carpets, decorations, and attention is also paid to sound, and the way it acts in the space.


This approach is deliberately “human-centered“, creating workspaces that make employees feel happy and valued at work, as well as making them more creative and productive.


Some of the basic biophilic design elements:

Natural shapes and forms

Natural patterns and processes

Light and space

Environmental features

Evolved human-nature relationships

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Ducky High chair and Mine Acoustic Panels with natural patterns


Benefits of Biophilic design in offices


Biophilic design in the workplace has been shown to reduce symptoms of ill health and improve overall well-being. Many people find that they feel less stressed and healthier overall when channeling the outdoors, whether it's through indoor plants or an open window. There is a great deal of research showing how enriched and empowered environments improve business outcomes through improved productivity, well-being, and engagement, and there is a similar body of research that shows that plants and natural elements, in particular, have a profound effect.


It is no surprise, then, natural light is the most sought after addition to an office space, desired by 44% of those surveyed for a research paper. The report found that workers in office environments with natural elements, such as greenery and sunlight were 6% more productive, 15% more creative, and reported a 15% high level of wellbeing. Most of the effects are psychological, but vegetation and green walls can improve the physical environment as well.


Working in such an office provides motivation, and people experience greater satisfaction.

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Natural Joy system with Plant partitions


Why is biophilic design important now?


WHO has predicted that, by 2020, stress-related illnesses such as mental health disorders and cardiovascular disease will be the two largest contributors to disease worldwide. According to the United Nations, 60% of all humans will live in urban areas by 2030, decreasing human contact with nature and depriving people of its positive benefits. According to an analysis by the LSE, urban dwellers have a 20% high risk of developing an anxiety disorder.


In addition to this, now in the Post-COVID world, the quality of indoor air and wellbeing of office workers will be of utmost importance. The amount of indoor nature and views matter…young adults in an office designed following biophilic design principles had lower blood pressure, lower heart rates, and better performance on short-term memory tests. Given the current crisis, it has also been shown to boost immune system performance.


Taking steps in this direction will be increasingly crucial in attracting and retaining talent as well, in these unprecedented times. If employees feel that the company is taking measures to create a healthier workplace, then they will feel safe emotionally and physically. Healthier employees stick around longer, reducing rehiring costs.

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How to incorporate Biophilia into the workplace?


Perhaps one of the simplest and most obvious solutions is including plant life in the workplace. Plants or green walls can also increase oxygen and airflow, making the immediate surroundings feel fresher and more breathable. But, there are many other simple principles that can be incorporated into any workplace to create a better post-COVID workplace.


Add outdoor spaces

Working outdoors is one of the safest places for your employees to gather.  Access to natural light and fresh air has numerous benefits including increased productivity, creativity, and wellbeing.


Use natural finishes

Including these natural features and textures like wood and stones can help to mimic the outdoors and really does follow the 'bringing the outdoors indoors' mantra. Wood is a warm versatile natural element and marble/stone adds sleekness to the design.

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D Cloud table with marble tabletop


Embrace colors

Bright Colours can have a positive impact on staff wellbeing with numerous reports finding that dull colors can have a detrimental effect. 

Read more in our blog on how colors in office affect us.


Access to sunlight

Aside from softening the harshness of artificial light, natural light can bring a whole room or wide-open space together in a breath-taking way. Use natural light in a multitude of ways to brighten, to highlight, and to provide a little Vitamin D.


Install focal walls

Focal walls are large displays typically utilizing a mural or tastefully done wallpaper, which can evoke feelings of being outdoors without actually bringing in the dirt. 


Gift plants to employees

By gifting potted plants to your employees, they can choose which plants they like the best or that reflect their individual work stations. 

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One Plus gifted plants to all employees on the Launch of the new office.

The Takeaway


In the post-pandemic world, we're going to live in from now on, healthy workplaces won't be a luxury. They'll be a necessity. A healthy office will go from a “nice to have” to a competitive, “must-have.” As we navigate through life changed by COVID-19, the health and wellbeing of employees in offices are more important than ever. The emotional toll that the pandemic has taken can have negative consequences on productivity and mental health. We all will feel better in an environment that promotes health. Utilizing biophilic design delivers a strong message to employees that their wellbeing is valuable above all else.