Constantly connected and predominantly urban, many of today’s workers might agree that we’re all suffering from “nature-deficit disorder.”

In the 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv posited that spending less time outdoors can lead to a wide range of behavioral issues like obesity and attention difficulties. Scientists agree; studies show that spending time in nature lowers stress, decreases blood pressure, and increases creativity. More specifically, simply looking at nature in the workplace significantly improves productivity and reduce attention fatigue.

Recent studies found those who work in “environments with nature-inspired elements” are 6% more productive, 15% more creative and have a 15% higher level of well-being; and workers surrounded by natural elements also report higher levels of job satisfaction and overall happiness.

This phenomenon is known as biophilia, a concept formulated by biologist E. O. Wilson in the mid-1980s, which suggests there is an intrinsic bond between humans and other living systems. More specifically, biophilia suggests that we have an innate need to connect with nature, and that nature can impact how we think, act and feel.

The Key to a Happy, Healthy Office

You’ve probably noticed a feeling of rejuvenation after walking outside in the middle of the work day. Many scientists believe that biophilia contributes to the surprising statistics that connect nature to happiness and productivity in the workplace. Integrating familiar nature-inspired features into typically drab workplace environments such as earthy colors, water, sunlight, and plants, can reproduce that same dynamism, along with its positive effects.

Faced with this mounting evidence, companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon have already begun to incorporate biophilic-inspired elements in their workplace design decisions.

Google is currently experimenting with this by installing skylights and solar tubes that provide 100% daylight to its workspaces, along with nature-inspired green carpets. Additionally, Apple’s new Silicon Valley campus, Apple Park, is naturally ventilated, requiring minimal heating and air conditioning for just three months a year. Not only does this cut costs, it delivers the most essential natural element: air. This sprawling campus also includes over two miles of wooded walking and biking areas, and more than 375,000 square feet is set aside for foliage, including a vast rooftop garden. Like Apple Park, Facebook’s HQ MK20 also features a giant green rooftop.

Outside of Silicon Valley, Amazon’s ever-expanding presence in Seattle has taken a biophilic turn. Due for completion in 2018, the retail giant’s latest move includes a cluster of biospheres made of steel and glass, which will be home to diverse and rare flora and double as flexible working space. Swaying bridges reproduce the sense of exploration and trepidation that nature so often evokes, and treehouses will provide a more natural setting for meetings.

Convene’s in-house design team also infuses biophilic-inspired elements into the meeting spaces and office amenity floors they build, as an effort to improve workplace happiness and productivity.

“Our designs blur the lines between inside and outside,” said Brian Tolman, Head of Product at Convene. “We like to utilize landscaped terraces, integrated interior plants, greenery, and water features in our spaces. It helps connect all occupied spaces to the outside, maximizing light and views and bring the natural world back into the places where we work and meet.”

From Grey to Green

The traditional workplace has been somewhat devoid of natural elements; by definition it is often industrial, neutral, clinical; in many ways the antithesis of “nature.” Considering we will spend about 35% of our waking hours at work throughout our lifetime, now is the time to look at the space we occupy and optimize it for engagement and collaboration. Plants and other natural elements have the potential to replace concrete while allowing employees of tomorrow become more productive, creative, and focused.

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