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Build Your Career Office Life

Biophilic Design: How to Channel the Outdoors in Your Workplace

Biophilic Design: How to Channel the Outdoors in Your Workplace
Credit: Milles Studio/Shutterstock

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans spend over 90 percent of their time indoors. The great outdoors can make a positive difference in your attitude and mental state, but when you work in an office, it's not always easy to find time to step outside. That's why biophilic design, which blends nature into your personal indoor space, is becoming more popular among desk workers.

According to Kenneth Freeman, head of innovation at Ambius, biophilia is "humanity's innate need to connect with nature and the natural environment."

"The need to connect with nature is embedded deep within our psyche," Freeman said. "As a species, we have divorced ourselves from our natural habitat: the open plains. Just as zoo animals and lab rats that are placed in sterile, unenriched environments show signs of physical and mental stress, so do humans when forced to work in lean, sterile and unenriched workplaces."

Biophilic design in the workplace has been shown to reduce symptoms of ill health and improve overall well-being, said Freeman. 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.

"This has a knock-on benefit on productivity, absenteeism and workplace engagement," said Freeman. "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."

You can reap these benefits by integrating plants and other natural elements into the workplace for little cost. Most of the effects are psychological, but vegetation and green walls can improve the physical environment as well, said Freeman.

If you want to introduce biophilic design into your office, Freeman says people respond most powerfully to the following:

  • scattered, clustered and varied vegetation
  • overlooked landscape
  • blurred boundaries between indoors and outdoors
  • dynamic and diffused light
  • natural scents
  • proximity to water
  • use of natural and local materials
  • shelter and privacy

"Interior landscapers have a number of tools and design techniques at their disposal to create designs that incorporate or relate to these elements," said Freeman. "The most effective way of incorporating biophilia is to use plants in a way that isn't too formal and regimented – rigid arrangements of identical plants are not very naturalistic, so variety in shape, size, form and even color can make a big difference."

Sammi Caramela

Sammi Caramela is a recent graduate of Rowan University, where she majored in writing arts and minored in journalism. She currently works as a Purch B2B staff writer while working on her first novel in her free time. Reach her by email, or check out her blog at sammisays.org.