Five ways to Get More Nature into the Office

It’s not just another pretty space. The biophilia hypothesis suggests that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. Research indicates that connection can improve health, well-being – and even the bottom line.

According to Work Design magazine, workplace productivity costs today are 112 times greater than energy costs. But now, incorporating natural elements, which EarthShare says has been overlooked in building design until recently, is catching on in hospitals, schools and workplaces around the world.

Further, American psychologists have identified that temperature, air, light and a view of the outside world do, in fact, impact basic functioning.

When focus is hard to achieve, that resulting stress slows the heart rate and breathing while arousing digestion to increase energy levels. The combination lowers concentration and effectiveness.

Nature, however, renews attention, stimulates effective responses and jump starts cognitive functioning.

Calling all employers

A notable productivity study by the Heschong-Mahone Group took place at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District Call Center. The numbers of calls handled per hour by employees with views of vegetation through large windows far surpassed the number of calls handled per hour by employees with no view of the outdoors.

Researchers concluded:

  • Those with views of nature handled calls 6-7 percent faster than those with no views.
  • Construction costs for the windows and slight increase in square footage requirements to allow access to natural views totaled $1,000 per employee.
  • However, the annual productivity savings averaged $2,990 per employee.
  • The initial investment payback was achieved within four months, with long-term productivity improvements yielding increased profits.

Additionally, a University of Oregon study found that workers with views to nature averaged 57 hours of sick leave as compared to 68 hours for those without a view.

Bring nature indoors – times five

Like a 200-year-old oak tree in hurricane, the research is unwavering. Nature rules – and prompts a reduction in absenteeism as well as in presenteeism - or the state of being physically present but not mentally focused.

Want to be a biophilia backer in the office? EarthShare and others, such as Turnstone, suggest:

  • Use glass walls to enhance natural light, encouraging it to spill into interior spaces. Where natural light is not an option, plan for ample artificial lighting, including task lighting. If feasible, consider skylights. When Ford Motor Company redesigned an assembly plant, it installed dozens of skylights. Not only did it save money on lighting costs, but the natural light also reduced eye strain and improved mood. If skylights aren’t possible, consider rearranging workstations to maximize window space. And if sunlight is too strong at certain times of day, use perforated dark shades to filter light, rather than totally blocking it, so the view isn’t lost.
  • Decorate the workspace with plants. Plants filter indoor air pollution, reduce stress and muffle noise. Place small potted plants on desks. Taller plants make great corner accents – and if possible why not a vertical gardens or living walls instead of artwork. Yes, watering is required. But there are companies out there whose job it is to keep the plants alive.
  • Warm up the space with wood or wood laminates, rather than white, for desks and bookcases. Vary textures and colors, with a focus on earth tones, on walls and for upholstery. Look for pieces that say “outside,” such as picnic or bistro tables in the break room, tree-trunk table bases, driftwood lamps or pergola-like ceilings.
  • Toxins such as formaldehyde, radon, solvents, lead dust, mold and pesticides can be mingling with indoor air, along with choosing cleaning products that avoid pollutants, a have a good ventilation system is critical. Additionally, bringing the sound of water inside is also therapeutic. An indoor waterfall or pond is ideal, but desktop fountains work, too.
  • If windows face an empty interior roof, consider a green roof to spruce it up. A green or living roof is covered with vegetation and a growing medium – perhaps dotted with some container plants - on a waterproofing membrane. Drainage and an irrigation system can also be incorporated. Green roofs save building energy costs and keep runoff from overloading sewer systems.

Another natural choice is to call the professionals at Beaux-Arts Group, who, like a guide on a hike, can point out all the nuances necessary to bring the outdoors inside that you might otherwise miss.