According to The Biophilia Hypothesis, human beings crave nature. It's only since the Industrial Revolution that humans have spent more time indoors than out, which goes against our genetic conditioning. We thrive in the outdoors, and being connected with nature is, in fact, an adaptive function of our physiology and psychology that restores our creativity, focus, and engagement with our surroundings and activities.

Is it any wonder then that modern office design which includes plants, natural light, and other elements in Mother Nature's recipe book is more conducive to a productive, happy employee workforce?

Plants Breathe Life Into Our Environment

No one wants to breathe stale air, and as few as one plant for every three employees can reduce CO2 levels by 20%. Freshening our air improves life for allergy and asthma sufferers, and means greater performance and productivity by employees.

Humans feel simultaneously calm and energized when surrounded by greenery. There is a reason many business leadership retreats are held in outdoor, woodsy, or mountainous locations: the environment helps us think, helps us connect with our inner thoughts, and allows us a perspective we just don't get in a modern office building. By bringing the outdoors in, we can capture a fraction of the level of mental centeredness we'd get from a full-fledged vacation or weekend retreat. The beauty of bringing plant-life into the office isn't just in how they look. It's in how plants and nature make us feel. In a more natural environment, we work better. It's that simple.

Curating plants is also a growing trend among younger generations. According to a National Gardening Survey conducted in 2016, 6 million people found gardening as a hobby that year, and of those, 4.8 million of them were between the ages of 18 and 34. In a city-dwelling generation that are no strangers to stress and anxiety, plant life in their homes is considered an antidote. Because of the stress of debt, finding good jobs, and ever-increasing costs of living, these youngsters are getting back to their roots, both figuratively and literally. Plants create an oasis of calm and offer freshness to a sometimes overwhelming existence. If this is the way people are outfitting their most comforting of environments, it stands to reason adding plants to a higher octane environment like an office would offer similar levels of comfort and beauty.

A Feast for the Senses 

Biophilia doesn't only improve our surroundings visually. Human beings respond to sounds and smells, as well. A multi-sensory biophilic design--such as water trickling or flowers perfuming the air--contributes to our immersion in a natural, creative environment. Even capturing natural breezes through open windows or cross-breezes so we feel fresh air on our skin can shake us from an afternoon slump and perk up our concentration and focus. These elements improve our responses so significantly that hospitals are beginning to ensure patients recovering from surgery have at least visual access to outdoor life because it improves healing times and health outcomes.

The more immersed we are in a natural environment, the better we respond, both subconsciously and consciously. Our blood flow and heart rates improve, and our problem-solving skills increase. Stanford University conducted a groundbreaking study that showed walking helps solve problems and generate ideas. Even those who walked on a treadmill indoors exhibited a 60% increase in creative output and a surge in brainstorming functionality. By taking the walking exercise outdoors, creative output exploded to a whopping 81%, and the result was higher quality solutions and innovations than in any other environment in the study.

Merging the Outdoors and the Office

There are undoubtedly practical considerations to giving employees access to the outdoors as a regular workplace option. Technology doesn't do well in heat, cold, rain, and wind. But there are elements that can be considered when creating spaces that bring the work outside. Sunshades, ceiling fans for air movement, space heaters and outdoor fireplaces for warmth, and sheltered patios with views of nature are all ways companies can incorporate design elements into an outdoor workspace to replace those stuffy conference rooms and endless meetings staring at a screen. The benefit is that the productivity in using these spaces will soar, shortening the time needed to come up with new and exciting ideas, reducing the fatigue long meetings can create, and energizing your workforce all at the same time.

Even the most beautiful outdoor environment, however, won't keep an employee happy if they have trouble doing the work. Comfortable seating, access to power outlets, and excellent WiFi connectivity is key to reaching maximum productivity outside. When it takes an average of 25 minutes to regain concentration and focus after an interruption, investing in proper design is critical to the success of having an outdoor workspace.

Not All Nature is Green

Biophilia does not just concentrate on plant life. There's so much more to the outdoor beauty of our world, including rock, sand, water, and wood. Any of these materials, when incorporated into the furniture and design of your office space can enhance a room's natural atmosphere. They're versatile in their functionality--particularly wood--and the possibilities for improvement to a stodgy office environment are endless. 

Sometimes, even incorporating natural colors into your design scheme can change the way employees feel in the space. Blues and greens are inherently soothing, and certain spectrums of blue coloring can help keep employees alert when their mental energy is drained. Blues and greens reduce anxiety while at the same time are easy on the eyes and can reduce strained eyesight and fatigue. Yellow is largely considered the color of sunshine, and brings a level of cheer to the office many other colors cannot pull off. Browns and grays give a fantastic backdrop against more vibrant colors and are reminiscent of woods, rocks, soil, and even water.

Not everything in the modern office needs to be about pool tables and game rooms to inspire and energize your employees. Humans respond most significantly to the things we've evolved to appreciate, so bringing in biophilia and incorporating the outdoors into your office design--or getter yet, incorporating your office design into the outdoors--really gives employees a taste of nature they wouldn't get in an ordinary office. The happiness and productivity this can create will save on absenteeism, improve employee satisfaction and retention rates, and overall increase your bottom line. More importantly, it'll create an environment everyone wants to be in, including you.

Published on: Jul 26, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.