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International Week of Happiness at Work: Embracing Biophilic Design to Support Workplace Wellbeing

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The pursuit of happiness is often overshadowed by the demands of the modern workplace. Our connection to nature remains deeply ingrained in our psyche, and the concept of biophilic design seeks to harness this connection to enhance our wellbeing within the confines of the office.

As part of our International Week of Happiness at Work, Amanda Bond, Nature and Forest Therapy Guide and founder of Wild Edgewalker, explores how biophilic design principles can be incorporated into workplaces, to help businesses enhance their employees connectivity to nature and in turn, their overall wellbeing. 

As the renowned psychologist Erich Fromm once said: “The passionate love of life and all that is alive; it is a wish to further growth, whether in a person, a plant, an idea, or a social group.” Biophilic design recognises this intrinsic human need for a connection to the natural world, and by adopting its principles, businesses can create workspaces that support happiness, productivity, and innovation among their employees.

In the distant past, our ancestors sought solace and security in environments abundant with greenery and living elements. These natural surroundings signalled the availability of food and water, allowing our forebears to focus on other aspects of life. Moreover, these environments often provided shelter and an advantageous vantage point to spot potential threats, ensuring the survival and thriving of the community. Though the modern workplace is vastly different from the prehistoric world, our basic psychological needs remain remarkably similar.

Today, as we navigate the concrete jungles of our towns and cities, stress levels have soared. The demand for a return to our roots, for more natural light, tranquillity, and proximity to nature, is stronger than ever. As Helena van Vliet, Biophilic Architect & Design Consultant, aptly puts it: “What we crave because we know instinctively that we must have it to survive. We must breathe Nature, smell Nature, feel it, hear it, touch it, live it, eat it to be whole. We must be immersed in it.” Biophilic design, rooted in our primal need for nature, seeks to address these yearnings.

By creating workspaces that incorporate elements inspired by the natural world, such as increased natural light and greenery, businesses can cultivate an environment where their employees are not only happier but also more productive, innovative, and potentially even healthier. One of the striking advantages of biophilic design is its cost-effectiveness, especially considering that staff costs represent a significant portion of a company’s expenses. By creating spaces that cater to the innate human desire for nature, businesses can directly enhance employee happiness and wellbeing, ultimately leading to higher retention rates and increased productivity. Biophilic design encompasses various features and principles, some of the key elements which include:

Nature in the Space: Incorporating nature-inspired elements into the workspace can have a profound impact. This includes natural soundtracks, background noises, and scents that mimic the outdoors. Planted indoor trees and large windows that allow for abundant natural light and views of nearby green or blue spaces are essential components.

Natural Elements: The use of wood in structural elements, desks, tables, and other furnishings can create a warm and inviting atmosphere. Additionally, incorporating reclaimed timber not only adds an eco-friendly touch but also enhances the connection to nature. Visual elements like images of oceans, landscapes, and wildlife can transport employees to serene natural settings within the workplace.

Nature of the Space: To accommodate diverse work styles and needs, it’s crucial to create spaces that cater to private and focused work. Private working areas not only support individual productivity but also foster inclusivity, addressing the needs of neurodivergent employees, for example.

Eco-Building: Biophilic design also aligns with eco-conscious building practices. Creating an eco-friendly building demonstrates a commitment to using Earth’s resources wisely. Moreover, it helps everyone in the workplace connect with the natural world by showcasing sustainable practices that benefit the environment.

Biophilic design has gained recognition and prominence within human-centred building standards like the WELL Building Standard™. This recognition  highlights the life-enhancing effects of biophilic design on psychological, physical, and emotional wellbeing. Architects and designers are increasingly adopting these principles to create workspaces that prioritise the health and happiness of their occupants.

The quest for happiness at work is not a mere aspiration but a necessity. Biophilic design provides a compelling solution by reconnecting us with our innate desire for nature. By incorporating elements inspired by the natural world into the workplace, businesses can create environments that foster happiness, boost productivity, stimulate innovation, and contribute to the overall wellbeing of their employees. In an era marked by increased urbanisation and high stress levels, embracing biophilic design principles is not only a design choice but a fundamental investment in the future of work.

World Wellbeing Week 2024

June 24 – June 30

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