Modern society loves to ignore the fact that human beings are animals. We’re designed to interact and integrate with our environment – and contrary to popular belief, that natural environment isn’t sandwiched between two cubicle walls inhaling sterile air with no view of the outside world.
Humans possess the instinctual need to be immersed in the real world, and without access to it, our behaviors can change. So it’s no surprise employees and some businesses are demanding Mother Nature be integrated back into the office space.
Here, we’re examining some of the major ways Mother Nature is making a triumphant return to the modern commercial office environment and restoring balance to the lives of employees everywhere.
The average person spends upwards of 90% of their time indoors – that means about 2 hours outside, per day – if we’re lucky. That means breathing the equivalent of upwards of 10,000 liters of sealed indoor air, and it’s been found to be a cause of mental fatigue, exhaustion and tiredness, irritable eyes, and even headaches and respiratory issues.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, indoor office air quality can be up to 5X more polluted than outdoor air, as indoor air in urban centers is primarily sourced from high traffic areas. Straight up, it’s not as nature intended. A recent study from Harvard tells us higher air quality and better ventilation systems lead to significantly better decision-making performance.
Integrating greenery and live plants in the office can help absorb particulates in the air such as carbon dioxide that is processed into breathable oxygen through photosynthesis – and there are loads of air-cleaning plants that can help to drastically improve the air quality of the office while simultaneously improving morale. For example, garden mums are a popular flower that has been found to purify ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, and xylene from indoor air. Dracaena plants and its 40 varieties remove benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and xylene from the air.
Natural light is a miracle worker for employee wellbeing and morale, helping to uplift spirits, improve productivity and overall job satisfaction.
In an experiment conducted by researchers at the Interdepartmental Neuroscience program at Northwestern University in Chicago, it was found that employees who had access to windows in the workplace were exposed to 173% more white light during work hours, and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night, citing the natural light as a natural balancer that helps to regulate the body’s natural circadian rhythm.
Exposure to natural light in the office helps stimulate the genes controlling the body’s internal clock, and help to dictate sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, body temperature, and other important bodily functions. When workers reside in windowless offices, their circadian rhythm is thrown off, often resulting in sleep disorders, predisposition to obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Better lighting and access to natural light in the office helps promote improved concentration and improved short-term memory, and even prompts a 15% increase in productivity.
Ambiance & Aesthetics
Nature has a profound effect on people in office settings. One study reports employees were 15% more productive when just a few houseplants were brought into the office, improving their moods and making them more attentive.
Biophilia is defined as the “connection humans feel with nature, and their basic, biological need to remain in close contact with it.” From a primal, instinctual place, people need and crave access to nature, so injecting office design with biophilic principles can have epic results on the wellbeing and vibrant aesthetic appeal of an office environment.
Introducing plants to the workplace can lower feelings of tension and anxiety by around 37%, while performance regularly improves in students when plants are placed in the classroom. Outside of the office, plants in hospitals have been shown to accelerate patient recovery times.
Biophilic design has become a modern commercial office design trend in recent years, thanks in part to a grand shift in urban living.Modern trends in employee satisfaction suggest more and more workers are starting to demand the freedom to choose where to work, and that choice is critical to allowing them access to more natural settings where research shows they are more creative, more capable of meaningful collaboration and reflective thought, and even concentration.
Views of Nature
You don’t have to feature a massive green living wall, reclaimed wood, and a wealth of potted plants to reap the benefits of access to nature. Access to a view of nature can have a similar effect, so bang down those walls and increase the size of your windows – it’s much better for productivity, company culture, and employee well being.
Let’s consider the Prospect/Refuge Theory from Lance Hosey’s The Shape of Green; according to which, humans are happiest looking out at nature from places of safety. Even visual contact with natural elements in a space centered around biophilic design can positively impact overall office health, performance, and concentration — and can also reduce employee levels of stress and anxiety. For an office space to achieve this, look no further than injecting the colors and textures of nature into our spaces.
Businesses across the globe lose billions of dollars annually to lackluster performance, loss of productivity, and absenteeism in the work environment. What our surroundings look and feel like have a massive impact on our psychological, physical, and emotional well-being, impacting health, productivity, and development.
Bringing nature back into the office is a profoundly powerful way to combat lagging happiness, and to restore our love of the professional world.