Workplace Wellbeing: The Effects of Biophilia on Office Design


So the chances are you might be reading this from your office space, either at work or at home. How are you feeling? Energised, productive, engaged? Well if you are and you feel like you're on top of your game then this may not be the article for you. If however you're looking for some tips and insights on how to really make the best of your workplace surroundings and improve you or your workers well-being, then we strongly suggest you read on.



"Workplace well-being is  essential  in the modern age."



After all, if your employees health is being undermined and poorly looked after, this will not only affect their focus and productivity levels, it will increase the amount of sick days they have, create negative atmospheres, promote mistakes and potentially make the business look bad in terms of diminishing reputations. You certainly don't want that do you? 


So how do you counteract this? Well, you ensure your staff's wellbeing is being looked after at all times, and one of the key ways of doing this in the modern age is to incoporate the widely researched approach of biophilia into your office design and layout.


So here's our top tips on what biophilia is (not the Bjork album), how it affects workplace well-being, and how you can effectively introduce it into your workplace surroundings.



What Is Biophilia / Biophilic Design?

Biophilia is "the innate affiliation people seek with other organisms and especially the natural world" according to American biologist - Edward O'Wilson (Biophilia, 1984) who originally popularised the Biophilia Hypothesis. In a nutshell, biophillia is the connection we as human beings seek with other living organisms. After all, it's easy to forget that we are indeed living, breathing biological entities ourselves. So how can you effectively bring the outside in? Well, this is how...


Living walls - the effects of biophilia


Now when we say bring the outside in, we don't mean a whole forests worth ~ Image source: Mashable.ComLongwood Gardens



Tip One: Bring The Outside In

"The future will belong to the nature smart. The more high-tech we become the more nature we need" says Kenneth Freeman, Technical Director of Ambius University. The introduction of plants and greenery are a great place to start if you're looking to bring the outside in. Green walls can be visually stunning whilst actively increasing oxygen levels in the process, ensuring greater air flow for employees.


Ambius University also recommends introducing varied species of plants into the office to spicen things up (visually of course). The use of natural materials such as stone and granite textures, local materials etc. are also recommended, and can be effectively utilised to blend both exterior with interior. Think water features, internal garden spaces and more...


The example below showcases one of our very own projects for the Richmond House Group. As pictured below, the simple addition of a variety of office plants, evenly distributed throughout the office space allows staff to easily reconnect to their natural sides. A simple and affordable addition that can have great impact on health and well-being. 


Biophilia - bring the outside in...


Potted plants. A most effective and affordable way of blending exterior with interior ~ Richmond House Group Project



Professor Gary Cooper (cited by MI Business Magazine, 2015) reports that "up to one in five people have no natural elements within their workplace, and alarmingly nearly 50% of workers have no natural light at all". So get your employees some light, even if it's limited to one or two small windows to help get those productivity levels up! Pretty and Barton at the University of Essex found that "Five minutes of exposure to nature is enough to have a beneficial effect, but the more the better". (The Nature Principle, 2012) The more you connect your employees to their natural sides, the more productive they can be! 



Tip Two: The Effects of Sound

The use of sound in the workplace is a most understimated tool. The sound of music, (and we don't mean the musical version of course, although "the hills are alive with the sound of", no forget that) has been widely linked with the positive promotion of employee welfare. Music itself has been scientifically proven to improve moods, decrease negative energy and relax employees. It removes tension and creates positive atmosphere, but we don't think blasting the dubstep out of the ol' corner computer is the key to its successful implementation.


A brief introduction to biophilia


We know, you can already feel the soothing effect...the sound of nature ~ Image source: Office Snapshots


A more subtle approach needs to be taken here. It's great to put the radio on and fill in the background silence, (definitely recommended) but try utilising discreet audio recordings in hallways and reception areas. For example, the sounds of running water, the seafront at the beach or a light cascade of rain. Clever placement of these sounds can help workers to reconnect with their natural side, promoting tranquility and peace in the subconcious mind.


Just take a look at the picture above. Imagine how soothing it would be to listen to the sound of nature whilst working on your latest project in such an eco-friendly space. Fast Co.Design also has a great article on how the sound of nature can make us more productive. The evidence they collated in the article even talks about tricking the mind into believing that you could be temporarily outside, enjoying yourself and not just stuck inside working. There's nothing like a bit of brainwashing to ensure your workers happiness... 



Tip Three: The Effects of Scent

How many times do you sit in the office and suddenly that blast of something out of the ordinary comes along? (Hopefully it's not your colleague; fingers crossed). Perhaps it's that wonderful waft of sewage from the nearby toilet, or maybe the burnt toast that's being cooked up in the kitchen. You know what I'm talking about. Well, what if you were able to replace that smell with the scent of something nice?


A touch of green to freshen the canteen


A touch of green to freshen the canteen ~ SEC Interiors - RH Logistics Project


Natural scents or ambient scenting as it's called plays a major part in terms of how it invokes and alters the psychological and behavioural effects of employees. Marketing professionals the world over are hot on using it as a new tool in their advertising arsenal; all part of the greater experiential marketing plan they say. But if we can simply walk by a shop and take in a blast of artificially marketed scents, then just think about what it could do to us when it's placed in a permanent office space. (NeuroScience Marketing, 2008)


Ideas That Spark's has a great feature on what plant scents will best compliment your office space and how much maintenance they need. Example scents include arabian jasmine, citrus, lavender and mint plants via their Top Ten: Greatest Smelling Houseplants guide. It's really that simple! Scent the air to avoid despair.  



Tip Four: The Importance of Decoration

Research by the University of Exeter, 2010 has shown that people who work in office spaces with decorative artwork and pictures are 17% more productive than those working in bare office spaces. To compliment that, research from Ambius University states that by giving office workers a say in the design and layout of their office space, (including decorations) they were able to input ideas that directly benefitted their well-being overall. They reported that productivity levels increased by over 15%, there were drops in absenteeism and job satisfaction was up by 9%. 


Indoor water features - reconnect with nature


Great decoration sets a space apart ~ Image source: Harmonic Environments



So here's the lesson to be learnt. Let your employees have a say. If everyones treated equally and has fair input then you're already half the way there to ensuring their wellbeing because you show that you care.



Tip Five: The Use of Naturally Occurring Colours

Did you know that the human eye can see more shades of green than any other colour on the spectrum. The reasons for this are evolutionary. Back in our hunting days we needed the ability to distinguish between the various shades of green to effectively identify predators out in the bush. It's stayed with us since, but the point here is that green as a colour is very important to us. Colour can play a massive part on our productivity levels, so it's important to get the balance right. But if you're looking to introduce some new shades into your office, then it might be a good idea to consult this guide: Office Colour Psychology: What Colour Scheme Will Best Suit Your Office.


Office colour psychology. Which colour suits you?


What to choose... a rainbow of colours ~ Image source: ShutterStock


So, naturally recurring colours - what are they? Think about the browns of the tree's and the forest spaces in which they dwell, (and the greens of course that accompany these). Soft blues that represent the running rivers and the wild sky. Creamy beiges and light sandy colours to instill a sense of warmth; you know where I'm going with this. Whatever you choose, be sure to keep it light and keep it subtle. If you need inspiration for colour choice, then just head outside and take a walk to your nearest park, nature trail or reserve. The inspiration is right there to be had and it really is essential to incorporate the natural environment in such artificially defined spaces. 



Bonus Tip: Office Ergonomics & Exercises For Employee Well-Being

So this isn't directly linked to biophilia but it is certainly linked to employee well-being. Ergonomics are a much overlooked area of the workplace. Think about it, how are your wrists currently positioned on your laptop or computer desk whilst you read this? Is your back arched? Are your feet spread out with the weight of your legs equally distributed?...


It's easy to forget to keep best practice in place when concerning ergonomics, but we're SEC Interiors, and of course we have help at hand. Not only do we have a great little infographic (featured below) and guide to help, but we also have some rather useful and relatively simple exercises (further down) that you can adopt to keep you active when sat at your desk for the long haul. Left, right, shake it up now dance! Time to stop that now.


[Infographic] - How to set up your ergonomically correct workstation


How to set up your workstation [Infographic] - SEC Interiors


So, need to get moving at your desk? Well, the guys at have some great Deskercise examples including the celebratory squat (for when you get that much needed pay rise/promotion), the wall (street) sit and the Grim Reaper (that's not as scary as it sounds, we promise). It's all good fun, but remember that sitting at your desk for X how many hours a day isn't good for your health and it is most important to get moving when you can.


Try getting out at lunch for a breath of fresh air and to stretch the ol' legs. Go and see your colleagues on foot instead of picking up the phone when you need them. Simple measures like these can go a long way in ensuring your health isn't compromised, keeping you active and well exercised throughout the day. That's the goal!


Biophilia - front and centre - green reception desk


Biophilia - front & centre ~ Narbutas Ice Reception Desk, 2015


So there you have it. A nice short summary of how biophilia can act as a key tool in helping to promote the wellbeing of your employees. It can be implemented on limited budgets, and introduced in a number of simple ways that can bring major impact to a workplace. We think biophilia is the emerging trend of the moment and certainly one to keep an eye on. Time will tell...  


If you liked this feature you may also like: 

Office Colour Psychology: What Colour Scheme Does Your Office Need?

Office Design: Top Five Modern Office Features

Modern Office Furniture Ideas


Post by Adam Bissmire-Mullen