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Why Natural Work Environments Will Be The New Normal

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Oct. 16 2020, Published 3:39 a.m. ET

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As we navigate through life on the other side of this pandemic (at least for now) it’s apparent that our work environments will be modified to accommodate sanitization and social distancing measures. But what is less clear, is how we will use this unprecedented time to focus on the need to make work environments more human-friendly.

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Biophilia, our love of life, is deeply ingrained in our biology. We have evolved in nature for millions of years, but now we are spending 90% of our time indoors. Research has shown that one impact of this shift over this last century is increased anxiety and stress. The emerging discipline of biophilic design acknowledges our disconnection from nature by bridging the gap between our indoor lifestyles and immersion in nature within the built environment.

For the past decade, forward-thinking employers have incorporated biophilic design into their buildings. Driven by extensive research that shows improvement to the bottom line, this discipline has been associated with increased productivity and focus, as well as lowered absenteeism and turnover. But biophilic design was still not widely used in projects.

However, many believe that our current pandemic world could be the catalyst needed for the explosive adoption of biophilic design in the workplace for two main reasons.

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biophilic design, biophilic, biophilia

First, biophilic design will help reduce stress. If we were experiencing high levels of anxiety and stress pre-Covid-19, we are now in a time of heightened stress regarding our physical health and global economic conditions. In addition, stress from our collective concern regarding racial tensions and the political climate.

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Second, employees themselves may become a driver to adopt biophilic design. Employees have enjoyed a few key benefits of working from home. During “the pause” many people have reconnected with nature around their homes. There has been increased park use and outdoor activities. More free time (no commutes) frees up the schedule for taking walks. The use of home offices (and alternative workspaces like porches and patios) often provides access to sunlight and nature views, even live plants.

In short, to be human-friendly, our modern workspaces must nurture our collective need for nature.

Do you think that biophilic design requires big budgets? For most of the workforce big budgets can be a barrier to biophilia, so let’s review some simple (read: inexpensive) ways we can bring more nature into our office spaces.

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Live Plants

My #1 biophilic tip is to add live plants to the workplace. Although even the addition of one plant can improve a feeling of well being, my suggestion is to have a minimum of one live plant per 100 square feet. In addition, you can use the plants to create a boundary between desks and staff. Not only will the plants provide a boost in focus and productivity, but they also filter the air of toxins and particulates.

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Fresh air

Speaking about indoor air quality, new measures will almost certainly be put into place to increase the air exchange and minimize exposure to airborne particles. For some workspaces where there are operable windows, I do suggest frequent “airing out.” And if possible, create casual outdoor meetings or temporary work areas.

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Natural light

64% of U.S. workers have no natural light in their workspace. If this is your workplace, see if there is any way to harness sunlight, either through the addition of windows, skylights, or solar tubes, or installing glass blocks/panels to allow light to penetrate into inner spaces. If this isn’t feasible, a new lighting plan may be required. Consult with your facilities manager on the installation of circadian lighting (mimics the color and patterns of sunlight during the cycle of the day). One client had too many, bright harsh light (blueish) LED fixtures that were causing headaches among her office staff. An inexpensive fix was to unplug several fixtures throughout the floor plan and adding desk or floor lamps with warmer (yellower) bulbs to counterbalance the ceiling lights. What resulted was a more comfortable workspace with a greater feeling of well being among the staff.

Natural Materials

Many work environments have an industrial feel with a prevalence of white and gray and have little connection with the outside world. From changing up carpet or wall color to making slight changes to objects in the workspace, it’s a great idea to use natural materials and colors, or material that mimics nature. The grain in wood furnishings has been known to contribute to lowered stress. Natural colors include green (vegetation), blue (water and sky), and browns (soil). There are carpets that have patterns of nature such as prairie grasses and moss.

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Nature Images

If views of nature are not possible, the artwork of natural landscapes have a similar impact on a feeling of well being. Depending on your workspace you can invite staff to enter their nature photos for consideration to be featured in the office. You may opt to use artwork that highlights your location (for instance, mountains, beach, or desert images).

I hope that you find some inspiration here to start creating a more biophilic space for your staff and contribute to a greater sense of well being. Keep in mind that all of the suggestions can also be used in your home office as well.

This piece was written by Maureen K. Calamia and originally appeared on ThriveGlobal.

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