The Promise of Biophilic Work Design

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The Promise of Biophilic Work Design

On average, we spend about 92% of our lives indoors. Yet, the so-called biophilia hypothesis suggests that humans have a strong innate desire to be in contact with natural elements and processes.  Research suggests that when we fulfill that desire, we typically

  • experience greater vitality and willpower,
  • feel a sense of mental clarity, and
  • engage in increased helping behavior.

However, when we don’t, we are more susceptible to stress, depression, and aggressiveness. 

Consider the implications which this phenomenon has for work performance.

Many jobs require people to be indoors, whether the work is done remotely or onsite. Recognizing that they can help alleviate the problems associated with nature-free space for onsite workers, employers, have begun to incorporate aspects of nature into employees’ day-to-day activities and workspaces through the so-called “biophilic work design.”  These efforts are wide-ranging.

At one end of the spectrum, companies provide direct immersion using natural elements such as providing employees with an appealing outdoor space where they can conduct meetings or phone calls.   At the other, we have indirect exposure which includes having large windows with sweeping views.

In the case of remote workers changes to physical facilities are not as controllable. However, these workers can be supported in other ways. For instance, managers can encourage people to take walks outdoors to recharge and to bring their laptops outside when weather permits.  Meanwhile, "virtual meeting rooms” with natural backdrops can serve as digital proxies for windows.

While some organizations are embracing biophilic work design for the sake of employee well-being and sustainability, the benefits go even further than that.  According to Professors Anthony C. Klotz of Texas A&M and Mark Bolino of the University of Oklahoma, helping employees interact more frequently and closely with the natural world can boost their energy and thus their work productivity.  And this ultimately impacts the bottom line.

What sorts of changes have these employers already begun to make?

Jobs and workspaces that allow employees to engage with the natural world through direct exposure are able to most thoroughly satisfy employees’ biophilic desires.  A common example of direct exposure is providing workers with spaces such as green rooftop terraces where they can take outdoor breaks...

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