16/03/2015

By Oliver Heath, Biophilic Design Ambassador at Interface


In the current climate, every company is looking for ways to improve the well-being of their workforce, boost productivity, inspire creativity and ultimately improve their bottom line. As the business case for green and bio-diverse work environments grows, the topics are becoming more prevalent in boardrooms across the country. Pioneering companies like Google, Facebook and Apple are already including these elements in their building design. Given they are some of the most advanced, industry leading, sustainable and profitable global businesses, the design of their own environment is clearly having a big impact.

For Human Resource professionals, employees’ well-being and productivity is of huge importance to their job role. Increasing levels of job satisfaction and efficiency can have a substantial impact on a company’s bottom line. For this reason, taking any measure to improve the well-being of staff is imperative to creating a successful corporation.

The Human Spaces report, created by global modular flooring manufacturer Interface and Professor Sir Cary Cooper, looked into the measures a company can take to improve the happiness of employees. The report studied 3,600 office workers in eight different countries throughout EMEA, examining how incorporating natural elements in the workplace impacts employees’ creativity, productivity, and over all well-being.

For HR professionals’, having happy, productive staff is pivotal in the running of a successful business. The Human Spaces report found that productivity was boosted by eight per cent and well-being increased by 13 per cent when an office environment featured natural elements such as greenery and sunlight. With nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of European office workers now working in a city, access to nature is increasingly difficult. On top of this, 30 per cent of EMEA office workers said their workspace didn’t provide a sense of light and space. More than half of employees surveyed (55 per cent) also don’t have any access to greenery at work.

For HR employees, it’s important to get involved in the issues presented in the Human Spaces report. By asking people directly in their organisation, the HR team can get a sense of how a lack of natural light may be affecting an employee’s standard of work, or how their members of staff feel incorporating plants and greenery might improve their well-being.

Alongside uncovering the statistics on a lack of greenery, the report also discovered that two fifths of EMEA office employees have no natural light in their workspace. The impact of not having natural elements in the workplace was significant, given that EMEA respondents within the report stated they took an average of 1.2 sick days over a three month period, with the UK taking almost double at 2.1.

Given absenteeism is thought to cost the UK £29billion a year; businesses must take note of the impact of office design on their workforce. It’s clear that a dark, largely man made office can impact the amount of sick days taken in a business, and that it’s crucial for the HR team to actively pursue any measures which could be taken to improve this. Through the incorporation of biophilic design themes, HR professionals can demonstrate the positive impact that subtle and inexpensive changes can have on employees’ general well-being.

The Human Spaces research revealed insight into the type of design and layout office workers are looking for. For example, the research found that 7 per cent of EMEA workers have no windows at all. In the UK, maximising natural light, wood and stone materials was seen to positively impact well-being in the office. For nature-starved businesses needing to inject some life into the workspace, the findings tell us that the most desired features UK office workers want in their office space are natural light (37 per cent) and a view of the sea (27 per cent).

While it’s clearly not possible to physically change the location of an office or create a natural landscape outside, bringing nature into the workplace rests heavily on the interpretation in the design. A company’s HR team can take small and inexpensive steps towards improving the design of an office space through biophilia. For example, if employees lack views onto nature, the use of large scale digital images, with open, vibrant expanses of nature, or even natural patterns, colours and textures, such as those found on materials and carpets can have a beneficial effect on stress reduction and cognitive functioning. It’s really about taking the nuances of what we respond to in nature and recreating it in our everyday environments.

The Human Spaces report provides HR professionals with a blueprint for biophilic elements that organisations can incorporate to improve well-being, happiness, and ultimately productivity in the workplace. With time pressures increasing, high performing businesses should be examining the design of their workplaces and how they can be improved. ‘Greener’ offices and the topic of biophilia is on the business agenda, however, as a country, the report shows us that we still have a lot of work to do in improving our office spaces for the benefit of employee and employer alike.