In the future nobody will work in an office, right? We're all going to be sat in our hammocks telepathically communicating to our colleagues, having achieved some kind of work/life nirvana.

Actually no. Offices will still be a thing, it's just that - rather like our working practices - they are going to evolve.

This article explores the future of the office, and predicts that they're going to be greener, with way more natural elements in the workplace. That means bamboo walls, grey water recycling, and less right angles.

This movement towards 'biophilic design' is expected to have a considerable impact on employee wellbeing.

Research from Terrapin Bright Green outlines the core benefits: "Biophilic design can reduce stress, improve cognitive function and creativity, improve our well-being and expedite healing."

Sounds good to me.

What is biophilic design?

The principles of biophilic design are outlined in a report called 'The Practice of Biophilic Design', by Stephen R. Kellert and Elizabeth F. Calabrese. Kellert says:

"The fundamental goal of biophilic design is to create good habitat for people as biological organisms inhabiting modern structures, landscapes, and communities."

The key things to get right include:

Direct experience of nature
• Light
• Air
• Water
• Plants
• Animals
• Natural landscapes and ecosystems
• Weather

Indirect experience of nature
• Images of nature
• Natural materials
• Natural colours
• Mobility and wayfinding
• Cultural and ecological attachment to place
• Simulating natural light and air
• Naturalistic shapes and forms
• Evoking nature
• Information richness
• Age, change, and the patina of time
• Natural geometries
• Biomimicry

Experience of space and place
• Prospect and refuge
• Organised complexity
• Integration of parts to wholes
• Transitional spaces
• Mobility and wayfinding
• Cultural and ecological attachment to place

So, pets in the workplace are definitely a good idea. Unless employees have allergies, or particularly annoying pets.

Biophilic design examples

The tech giants certainly recognise the benefits of biophilic design. Facebook commissioned Frank Gehry to design its Menlo Park HQ, replete with 10 acres of park on the roof.


Amazon, meanwhile, has built an office that houses 40,000 plants, as well as its many employees. Opened earlier this year, it was designed as a rainforest-like space to inspire creativity and foster a community-based culture.


NBBJ, the architect responsible for the Amazon design, said:

“The generative idea is that a plant-rich environment has many positive qualities that are not often found in a typical office setting."

“While the form of the building will be visually reminiscent of a greenhouse or conservatory, plant material will be selected for its ability to co-exist in a microclimate that also suits people."

Google also has a history of incorporating biophilic elements into its offices. It's Kings Cross office in London has a huge rooftop garden.


The benefits of a green office

According to Harvard, green-certified offices reduce employee sick days by 30%. In the UK sick days amount to £77bn in lost productivity each year, so if all offices were green it would be a gain of around £23bn. That number could scale up to more than $700bn globally.

Another study found that green offices improve cognitive thinking, so employees are going to be more focused, and more efficient.

Workplace satisfaction improves too, which will have a positive effect on employee wellness, retention, and company culture. A biophillic office will also help with hiring, as who wouldn't want to work in such a place?

The good news is that you don't need big bucks to make a difference. The simple addition of plants into an office environment has been proven to increase productivity by 15%. Plants also naturally contribute to air quality and humidity, and can help to reduce energy costs.

In summary, the world of work is fundamentally changing. In a decade or so it is expected that one in three employees will work remotely. Their office-based colleagues may work in much better environments, thanks to the many benefits of biophilic design.

And with all that in mind, I'm going to treat myself to a nice plant.

Main photo by Michael Aleo on Unsplash.

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