Get all the news you need about Smart Buildings with the Memoori newsletter

Which research categories are you interested in?

A recent survey commissioned by Ambius found that 35% of office workers don’t get more than 15 minutes of outdoor time during their typical workday. A further 13% say they are able to stretch their outdoor time to 30 minutes per day while only 22% manage to spend over an hour outside each day. The research found that the average office worker spends an average of 47 minutes outdoors each day. The average prison inmate, on the other hand, typically gets an hour of outdoor allowance per day.

Despite the long hours many office workers feel obliged to be at their desk and their other indoor commitments, most could probably find time in their schedule to get outside. Among the 3.9% of respondents that spend more than 2 hours outdoors, you may find those who wake up at 5am to run in the park, those who cycle to work, and others who have outdoor pastimes. The fit, healthy, active people.

Decades of research has shown that outdoor activities have a beneficial effect on health and well-being, but new studies have strengthened the link between outdoor activities and productivity in a workplace context. It’s not just the activity causing these improvements, however, we are intrinsically linked to nature and living in the absence of natural elements can lead to issues related to health, wellbeing, and productivity. Being in nature is healthy according to the study of Biophilia, fathered by American biologist and researcher Edward O. Wilson.

“Humanity is a biological species, living in a biological environment, because like all species, we are exquisitely adapted in everything: from our behavior, to our genetics, to our physiology, to that particular environment in which we live,” wrote Wilson in his 1986 book ‘Biophilia’. “Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction,” he stated.

Our urban civilization is a tiny blip on the timeline of human evolution. The natural habitat for humans is still a natural one that we often get glimpses of in the built environment. City streets lined with trees are not in most demand just because they are more beautiful. It is because, on some deeper level, seeing trees when you come and go every day, or through your window can improve your health and well-being.

Maybe natural beauty itself is a function of the biophilic effect. Natural wonders still draw the biggest crowds and many of the greatest artworks depict nature. Biophilia proposes that despite technology driven urbanization we must find a place in our lives for nature, not just in our streets but in our homes and workplaces.

A 2014 study published in the “Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied” found that the presence of plants inside a building increases occupants’ feelings of well-being by 40%. Studies have revealed that adding biophilic elements to offices can increase productivity and reduce absenteeism, two factors that impact the bottom line due to the large portion of a company’s operating costs represented by human resources. Just as nature makes a home more attractive to buyers, it also makes an office more attractive to employees. Present and motivated workers means greater productivity and increased profit.

Biophilia is not just about adding a few plants to the office. The types of plants and their positioning should resemble the seemingly chaotic distribution of plants in nature. At different heights and with some in groups, for example. The biophilic effect can also be triggered by giving workers views of nature through windows, where natural sunlight can also positively impact productivity.

“Research has shown that views also have a positive impact on wellbeing, in part by providing a psychological connection with other groups of people while in a safe space, satisfying the instinctive human need for ‘refuge-prospect,’” explains the Biophilia section of our Future Workplace Report. “For decades executives have coveted the ‘corner office’ to the point that it is now synonymous with high status in the corporate world. The rationale for having bigger windows and a more expansive view outside only grows more substantial as this new research comes to light.”

Biophilia does not require actualy plants at all. Employees in sterile workplaces, such as pharmaceutical research and manufacturing facilities, have even benfited from nature photographs and sounds or natural shapes like curves and spirals added to their otherwise extremely unnatural work environments. These ideas are now being incorporated into urban architecture and infrastructure to spread well-being on a city-wide scale.

“The benefits of biophilic design from both a psychological and a practical, cost saving perspective are robust and will gain even more traction within the business community as our understanding of its principles continues to grow,” says Kenneth Freeman is head of innovation for Ambius. Freeman sees the body of work surrounding biophilia growing every day and interest from buildings and businesses growing with it.

“While the concept of biophilia has been around in academic circles for several decades and various research projects over the years have pointed to the benefits of biophilic design, there are still many aspects of those benefits we haven’t fully been able to measure,” he added. “As our understanding increases from an academic perspective and designers innovate from practical and aesthetic perspectives, biophilic design will play an increasingly important role in commercial buildings.”