14Sep
Biophilic design in the post-COVID workplace

As the coronavirus pandemic gradually eases, the transition back to office work brings about many stressors for employees and employers alike. Managing contact with people during commute and at the office, navigating the new ways of operating in the workplace, the uncertainty from continuously evolving policies and fast changes to both personal and work circumstances, are all bound to leave people feeling overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted. To combat the many side-effects of prolonged stress, office design professionals are turning to biophilic design practices. 

Being connected to nature has been scientifically proven to increase mental and physical wellbeing. The presence of plants and water elements improves air quality while incorporating other biophilic components can make the workplace a more inviting, calming, and wholesome environment. As social contact is reduced to minimise the spread of germs, feelings of loneliness and disconnectedness grow more common. Natural elements, however, can reduce anxiety, steady the heart rate, and even lower blood pressure – producing a more enjoyable work experience and adding to employees' ability to concentrate and produce. Employees who feel safe, at ease, and connected to their work, especially in these unprecedented times, are the key to any company's success.

At Niche Projects, we look at biophilic design and workplace wellness through three core principles: health, nature, and sustainability. These principles are implemented through six applications from air quality to lighting, greenery, colour selection, materials, and multisensory elements.

Air quality

Always an important element in any work environment, maintaining good air quality and ventilation is essential in preventing the spread of viruses. Regular aeration, letting fresh air in by opening doors and windows for example in conjunction with office cleaning goes a long way, and those in the market for more robust solutions may want to consider installing high-end air filtration to further mitigate the risk of airborne pathogen exposure.

Lighting

Harsh artificial lighting interrupts our natural circadian rhythm, causing fatigue and sleeplessness, which can intensify health and wellbeing issues during this already uncertain time. In contrast, natural lighting has been proven to boost mood and energy, and there are several ways for incorporating natural light into office setups – using large windows, skylights, and space-planning to ensure employees receive the most amount of natural light possible. Not only does this improve wellbeing, but it also has the added benefit of reducing energy costs.

Greenery

A popular design trend, living green walls (also known as vertical gardens) are a great way to adopt biophilia in the office space. Comprised of numerous plants installed vertically on a wall surface, living walls do require some planning and maintenance. These often large-scale installations make a real statement and are perfect for that "wow-factor" in a lobby or reception area. If you're looking for simpler ways of adding greenery into the office space, however, consider decorating protection shields and desk partitions with ferns and potted plants to make the workspace feel warmer and more inviting, reducing any negative undertones of these necessary COVID safety precautions.

Colours 

Using natural colours is a powerful tool in office design. Colour can improve mood, energy levels, and the overall atmosphere of the workplace. With strategic use, color can also bring up the same benefits that nature does and put the biophilic design principles into practice – combining natural, earthy tones with blues and greens is an easy way to make the workspace more appealing.

Materials 

Biophilic concepts focus on earth-friendly materials that avoid unnecessary impact on the environment. Sustainably sourced wood has a special place in biophilic design, as it creates a strong connection to nature and has endless applications – from structural elements to decorative. Other complimentary materials include cork, rubber, bamboo, stone, and even brick. Where natural material use is not an option, consider patterns, colours, shapes, and textures that imitate nature. 

Multisensory elements

Last but certainly not least, applying a multisensory approach to design helps create more profound office experiences. When we stimulate our senses the way nature intended, the benefits to our wellbeing are countless. Sight, sound, smell, and touch all play a role in the way we feel at work, and carefully considering these aspects as part of the biophilic design process is key in providing a pleasant, productive, and stress-free work day.