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Biophilic office design: concept, benefits, examples & tips

Published:

September 7, 2023

Updated:

November 16, 2023

Americans spend 90% of their time indoors on average.1

Knowing that humans are a species created to live outside, you can imagine the impact on our mental and physical health. Biophilic office design brings the outside in to reconnect employees with nature and uses the workplace layout as an asset to enhance well-being and productivity.

While plant walls are often the first example that comes to our mind when thinking about biophilic architecture, there are many more companies can do to embrace the benefits of biophilia. Promoting natural lighting and implementing natural sounds like forest or ocean noises reduce stress and help workers focus.

On one hand, businesses look for ways to improve employee experience and boost performance. On the other hand, reconnecting with nature has become more important than ever for all of us. Incorporating biophilic design in the workplace enables organizations to align with our world’s needs and evolution

Here is an introduction to this concept, reminding us of the tie between us and nature and the necessity of bringing more life into the office.

woman hands on a laptop keyboard

Biophilic office design explained

The concept of biophilia

Biophilic office design comes from the larger concept of biophilia, the undeniable bond between us and nature. Biophilic architecture aims to create this nature-human connection indoors (homes, public spaces, office buildings, etc.) to embrace its positive physical and psychological outcomes. 

By bringing nature into the workplace, a business’s impact is much bigger than “just” improving employee experience, mental health, and productivity. It also helps to fight global warming, build a more sustainable work environment, and reconnect people to nature. 

The three pillars of biophilic design

To implement biophilic design, you need to consider the following three angles: nature in the space, natural analogs, and the nature of the space. 

This means your interior contains natural features such as plants or water fountains, as well as materials, objects, and patterns that remind us of nature, like a honeycomb wall or wood furniture. Lastly, you should also incorporate spatial elements in the building layout that invite team members to mimic certain behaviors they would have in nature. 

Modern businesses offer various types of workspaces for employees when coming on-site, including quiet areas. In a biophilic design office, these focus zones could have a cave shape, for example.

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office design with plants and candles.

The 14 patterns of biophilic architecture

There is one last important point you need to know before digging into the reasons for successfully creating a biophilic office for your hybrid workforce and how to do it successfully. For decades, scientists and experts have studied biophilia. They have divided the three categories mentioned above into 14 different patterns.

The 7 “Nature in the space” patterns

  • Visual connection with nature;
  • non-visual connection with nature;
  • non-rhythmic sensory stimuli;
  • thermal & airflow variability;
  • presence of water;
  • dynamic and diffuse light;
  • connection with natural systems.

The 3 “natural analog” patterns

  • Biomorphic forms and patterns;
  • material connection with nature;
  • complexity and order.

The 4 “nature of the space” patterns

  • Prospect;
  • refuge;
  • mystery;
  • risk and peril.

Understanding these 14 patterns is very interesting and useful to create a thriving work environment. We highly recommend reading the article 14 PATTERNS OF BIOPHILIC DESIGN, Improving Health & Well-Being in the Built Environment, from Terrapin Bright Green.

hybrid office desk with plants

The scientifically proven benefits of biophilic design

Plants lower stress levels

Many studies demonstrate the benefits of forest bathing on mental health, especially in reducing stress. The same happens when people are working in a biophically-designed indoor space. Plants have the power to calm us down, lower stress levels, reduce blood pressure, and decrease sick-building syndrome.2 Therefore, creating a biophilic office can help employees handle busy periods better, overcome challenges, and tackle unexpected events more peacefully.

Green walls reduce noise pollution

Plant walls are not just a decoration to make your workspace more “nature-like” or lower your staff’s stress levels. It is a great sustainable solution to reduce the clatter inside and outside your office as it absorbs and masks sound. Since noise pollution is proven to be a major cause of stress and anxiety, incorporating living walls into your building (indoor and outdoor) is an amazing answer to this issue. It allows you to create a greener and quieter work environment that benefits your teams (and consequently, your business, too) and the planet at the same time.

Biophilic design supports cognitive abilities

Working in a biophilic environment improves concentration, creativity, and other cognitive abilities. So, not only can a natural setting help team members focus better and be more relaxed, but it can also increase their performance. A psychological study, “The Relative Benefits of Green Versus Lean Office Space: Three Field Experiments”, reveals that people exposed to nature are 15% more productive than employees in a lean landscape.

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Natural elements enhance psychological well-being and mental health

The environments in which we work strongly impact our mental health, which is why biophilic design has become so popular. The effects of a natural design on workers’ well-being and mental health are also proven. Building an office with organic materials, shapes, sounds, smells, light, etc., directly affects how team members feel in the workplace. Taking care of your staff’s mental and physical wellness is a priority to enhance employee satisfaction, make them thrive, and retain talent. They are the backbone of your company. They can either make your business grow or collapse.

Plants and trees offset the CO2 produced by the office’s digital transformation

While we enter an era of digital transformation, we also are at a turning point regarding the environmental crisis. On one hand, technology generates a lot of carbon dioxide, but this shift is unavoidable. On the other hand, we must change the way we live to create a more sustainable world. 

Biophilic architecture and design are effective solutions to reach this goal, and they also capture and offset some of the CO2 businesses produce.

Vegetation purifies the air we breathe

So yes, adding vegetation inside and outside your office building helps absorb carbon dioxide, yet this is not the only advantage. Do you have an AC system on your premises? Do your staff often suffer from headaches? Plants filter the air and, therefore, ameliorate the air quality. One potted plant isn’t enough, of course. However, a sufficient number of them undoubtedly reduce the amount of air pollutants. Not only does this improve the general health of your workforce, but it also contributes to boosting their performance.

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hybrid office space with natural lights

Biophilic design examples and ideas to bring the outside in

Tips to bring the outside in

Customization of your biophilic office environment

Biophilic design is a versatile concept that can and should be adapted to every space, requirement, and budget. Some buildings might have perfect sunlight and a great view of nature but icy and unnatural interior design. Others might need more olfactive or auditory elements to reconnect employees to the benefits of a natural setting. If your finances don’t allow for a 360° shift, prioritize the changes impacting your office layout and workforce the most.

Focus on natural lighting and outside views

Sunlight is essential for health in general. Plus, if you combine it with a view of nature, it is very likely you will see a significant impact on your employee’s mental health and performance. However, not every company is well-exposed to natural light and beautiful scenery. In this case, dynamic light systems can help recreate this natural lighting atmosphere. Studies show that sensory stimulation, like light variation, prevents boredom and passive behaviors.

Green in your outdoor areas

Does your staff have an open-air area to take a break, have lunch, or work from outside? That’s awesome! But have you also tried to create a biophilic design there, or is it just glass and cement everywhere? If it’s not already the case, bring (back) some nature there, too. It’s great for your employees’ morale and the planet! Your outdoor spaces will be much cooler when the next heat wave strikes and enjoyable with the biodiversity returning.

green outdoor office space

Choose natural materials and colors

Materials and colors also impact how we feel in a certain setting. Opting for natural textures and shades is a core aspect when creating a biophilic office design. Remember, the second category we discussed earlier is the natural analog part. So, forget about the office space with white walls, cold tiles, and an atmosphere without a soul. Instead, install carpets, paint your walls beige or green, and incorporate some objects and art that bring the outside in, like driftwood lamps.

Offer a little plant for each new onboarding

Your office layout should portray your corporate culture and vice versa.  A lovely biophilic and employee-centric gesture for onboarding a new talent is offering them a little plant. They can leave it on their desk if they have an assigned space or add it to a collective garden with other colleagues. It can even become a nice team activity where everybody takes care of this little garden and watches it grow over time. Moreover, gardening is also proven to reduce stress, so it’s a win-win.

Don’t let yourself be demotivated by money

Of course, the more biophilic your office is, the better. But cost shouldn’t be an obstacle, and bringing outdoors in doesn’t have to be expensive. As we just said, taking care of the plants can even become a team bonding activity where employees can volunteer. You can also make small changes over time. Start by adding some potted plants, as it’s often the easiest. Install a speaker in your open space and put some nature sounds on. Then, improve the color palette of your office areas. Later, review your lighting system, and so on.

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Concrete examples of biophilic office design

Nature sound wall integration 

Biophilic design is not just about adding a few plants in the corners of your building. It is a bit more complex than that and considers each of our senses that are triggered when we are in a natural setting. For example, integrating nature sound walls introduces the auditory elements you need to bring the outside in. It can imitate the sounds of birds, ocean, rustling leaves, fire, etc.

Living walls with local plants 

Very often, buildings with a biophilic interior design have at least one living wall, also called a “green wall”. This is when a full wall is made of different foliage, flowers, and moss, creating a direct connection with nature while being multisensory (vision, touch, smell). If sustainability is part of your core values, it is important to pick native plants to decorate this wall and avoid choosing invasive and exotic species.

Subtle natural smells

Smells also have a powerful impact on how we feel. They can soothe our minds or do the opposite. Therefore, considering olfactive elements to enhance a biophilic office is important too. It can be through the plants and flowers you choose or essential oils. However, we recommend you avoid chemical products that imitate natural scents. Lastly, we suggest you ask your employees if they have any allergies before using essential oils in the workplace and don’t overuse them. 

Wood for the mood

We highlighted the importance of the materials and patterns you implement in your office. Wood is a safe choice to create a natural, calm, and warm work environment. Enabling your staff to be relaxed fosters focus and productivity. Similar to living walls, wood is a multi-sensory element. The smell and touch also have positive psychological effects on people. Overall, using wood in your office architecture and decoration relieves stress. The cherry on top is that wood, like plants, stores CO2, even after being manufactured, and is more sustainable than other building materials.

As the world of work evolves and reconnecting with nature becomes more crucial, biophilic office design is one of the most progressive office design trends. Its benefits include better mental health, focus, and productivity. But it also creates a greater employee experience on-site and can even help you convince your staff to come in more often if this is your goal. Moreover, flexible work allows your team members to choose a work environment that matches their expectations and where they feel comfortable to get their tasks done effectively. By bringing the outside in, you can offer them a workspace that answers those needs.

Combine nature-inspired architecture with a well-designed hybrid workspace, and your coworkers will (almost) not want to leave the office!

Our goal is to help you foster the best working environment for your staff. We can’t help you create a biophilic workplace, but we can support you in building an agile environment and managing it successfully! 

Request a free demo of the deskbird app to discover our employee-centric features and how to save costs while optimizing your workspace.

1 Indoor Air Quality, United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

2 Psychological And Physiological Benefits Of Plants In The Indoor Environment: A Mini And In-Depth Review, International Journal of Built Environment and Sustainability.

Sources: 

Biophilic office design: concept, benefits, examples & tips

Paulyne Sombret

Paulyne is a highly respected expert in hybrid work. She's known for her writing on sustainability in the hybrid office, flexible work models, and employee experience. With a strong background in content and SEO, her work explores the exciting trends and latest news in the world of work.

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