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A Guide to Biophilic Office Design

Published on 12/03/2019

Biophilic Office Interior

Office design is an ever changing beast. Trends and fashions are always shifting and altering, meaning that what is en vogue one month, isn’t for long afterwards. Trying to stay up to date with fashions is an exhausting and borderline impossible action and it is far better to instead focus on creating an office space which ticks every body for your individual business, and your employees who work within it. 

The way an office looks and functions has a direct impact on the success of your business. An office which is dark, dismal, uninspiring and full of uncomfortable, old office furniture is not going to bring the best out of your employees and is certainly not going to make the first impression to visitors to your space. Your office is a shining example of who you are as a business, and what you stand for.
Opting for an innovative, attractive, and well-run office space means that visitors are automatically going to think that your goods and services are equally as high quality. This really can be the difference between beating your competition and being left behind. 

This article is going to focus on something which you might not have heard of, but you’ve probably seen before – biophilic office design. Yes, the term sounds confusing, but when you break it down, it’s actually an attractive and wonderful way to design an office. 

Read on, we’re about to get down with nature!

What is Biophilia, And How Does it Work Within an Office?

A 2018 study by Ambius revealed that 35% of US workers don’t spend more than 15 minutes of outdoor time per working day. That might be in the USA, but it’s extremely likely to be the same picture in the UK too. The same survey found that we spend around 90% of our general time indoors. 

The problem is that we’re not programmed to stay indoors, humans have a need to be outdoors, and to connect with nature and everything around us. By staying within four walls, we’re actually going against our very nature, and therefore inviting depression and anxiety into our lives, as one rather detrimental effect of the whole situation. We’re going to talk shortly about the major benefits of spending time outside and being around nature, but for now, you simply need to realise that human beings were designed to spend time outdoors, not cooped up inside, with fake air being pumped through an air conditioning machine!

The whole idea of biophilia appeared in 1984, in a book called ‘Biophilia’ by Edward Wilson. This book brought forth the idea that humans need to be around nature in order to be their best selves, and to reach optimum health and wellbeing. Wilson also suggested the humans also try and search for a connection towards anything natural, subconsciously. We’re basically searching for nature all the time, without realising it. 

Biophilic Office Interiors Green Wall

This whole idea makes sense when you think about it. Think about how calm you feel when you go outside and hear the birds chirping, you hear water in a river, or you see flowers in a green field. You automatically breathe a sigh of relief – it’s like your inner self was searching for something and then found it! 

We’ve already mentioned that the Environmental Protection Agency states the average individual spends 90% of their time inside, covering both their working environments and at home. With this in mind, biophilia seeks to find the perfect middle ground – bringing the outside indoors!

So, let’s define it. Biophilic office design is the process of bringing plants, green trees, and green spaces into an office. This helps us find that natural connection, and when used in conjunction with other natural spaces from our office windows, the benefits are increased. This doesn’t mean simply taking a tree and planting it in the corner of your office space, it means actually incorporating greenery into the whole decor and design. To give you one example, think about a moss wall in your office space – this is natural and it is green; the idea is that connection to nature will help to create the subconscious link you’re looking for as a human being. 

You might be rolling your eyes about this, but there is plenty of evidence to back it up! 

According to Plant Plan, the following statistics come the way of an office or commercial set-up which incorporates biophilia into their design: 

  • Productivity rises by around 8%
  • Employee wellbeing increases by 13%, with a drop in work absenteeism
  • Customers stated they would be willing to pay between 8-12% more if shopping in a space which had biophilic design
  • There’s a health boost too – biophilia in hospitals may be able to boost post-operative recovery times by around 8.5%! Plants improve the air quaility by reducing dust and bacteria

Those are certainly statistics to get you thinking. 

The Benefits of Being Around Nature

Now we know what biophilic office design is, and we know that it has some major benefits, let’s take a step backwards for a second and really examine why nature is so beneficial for human beings. By doing this, you’ll really be able to understand how and why biophilic office design might be the best step you’ll take in your latest office renovation

Spending time around nature, specifically within forests where there are a lot of green trees and therefore plenty of extra oxygen can give you the following health benefits

  • Improved immune system function
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • A huge reduction in stress
  • Improved mood
  • Improved focus and concentration
  • Increased energy levels
  • Improved sleep quality

A huge number of studies have gone into proving all of this, but in Japan the idea of spending time within nature and in totally green spaces has actually been recognised more formally. The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries came up with a name for the benefits of spending time outside, in nature, called Shinrin-Yoku (‘forest bathing’). The ministry actively encourages people to head into outdoor spaces, particularly forests, to obtain the benefits, especially for stress relief. 

Of course, if you’re working five or six days a week, it’s not easy to get into forests on a regular basis, and that is why biophilic office design is becoming more and more popular as time goes by. The ability to benefit from these outdoor advantages whilst still earning cash and doing your job is a very tempting thing, and the more businesses which sign up to this type of office design, the better for the overall health and wellbeing for those who work within these organisations. 

You could also look at this from a stress management point of view.

The HSE states that in 2017/18 there were 595,000 UK workers suffering from work-related stress, or related anxiety and depression. From that, 15.4 million working days were lost due to stress. That is a lot of time and money lost for a business, and a lot of darkness and unhappiness for the individuals concerned. 

Taking that into account, if biophilic office design could reduce that stress, by incorporating green spaces and a link with nature, surely that would be a huge benefit for a business?

Green Plant Wall

Biophilia’s Effect on Employee Morale

Before we get into the crux of how to incorporate biophilia into your office design, let’s talk about one very important aspect of business success – employee morale. 

If you don’t place importance on the morale of your employees, you’re missing out in a huge way. The reason?
Because there is a very real and direct link between employee morale and profits. This all boils down to productivity, and linking in the health and wellness of your employees

Employees who are low in morale, who don’t feel inspired and valued within their workplace are not going to want to go to work any day of the week, let alone on a dark Monday morning. As a result, they will simply do the bare minimum of what they need to do and they will then go home. Is that what you want from your employees. Sure, they’re not doing anything wrong; they’re turning up for work, they’re doing what they’re told to do, and they’re leaving the office at the end of the day. Nothing wrong with that.
The problem is, you’re not getting the most out of your employees with this situation, and you’re not allowing them to reach their potential. 

When morale is high, the opposite situation occurs. Employees want to go to work, they feel inspired and valued, they’ll come up with new ideas and creative solutions to problems, and they’re far less likely to suffer from stress-related conditions and miss days from work as a result. 

Nature, as we already explored in our last section, is a mood booster, it helps to naturally reduce stress and boosts energy and concentration. All of this makes you feel good, and that helps you work harder. In addition, an office space which has a biophilic design is an attractive place to work. When you like the office space you’re in, it makes your working life far better!
The Haworth White Papers discovered that an attractive working environment and design can help workers feel happier and more uplifted.
Obviously this is going to increase morale, which in turn boosts productivity and profits. 

It’s definitely time to think about greenery! 

Check out this video for a more visual take on how biophilic office design increases happiness and productivity 

Areas of Consideration When Thinking About Incorporating a Biophilic Office Design

Once you’ve decided that you want to go ahead and incorporate biophilic office design into your space, you then need to start thinking about the practicalities of it all. This isn’t as simple as adding a few plants and painting your walls green, as there is likely to be maintenance and upkeep to consider, depending upon the biophilic route you go down. Of course, you could also stick with simple routes too. We’ll cover some biophilic design ideas a little later on, but for now let’s talk about the logistics and other important things to consider. 

Green Wall Panel

Depending upon how large or small your office space is, depends on the type of biophilic design you can go for. If your office is very small, it’s best to think about adding biophilic panels to your walls, to avoid floor space being cluttered up. The good news is that this type of office design in general doesn’t really take up a huge amount of space no matter what you do, and it’s more about minimalism than actually causing a room to appear smaller. Despite that, you do need to consider the amount of space you have, and where you want to place certain items in correlation to your existing business furniture

Your Window Views
What is outside your window? Do you a natural view already? If so, you’ve conquered half the battle! Offices which overlook green spaces don’t need as much biophilic design features as an office which overlooked another office block, or one which is within a built-up urban area. If you don’t have the greatest view, and many offices don’t, then adding more wall features to your space will solve the issue. 

Of course, you need to consider the budget you have not overspend. You should however think about the benefits of this type of office design, and the productivity rise that is sure to come your way after the renovation is complete. Despite that, shop around and find the best office space planners to give you quality advice. 

Biophilic Design Pattern 1

Your Existing Furniture And Decor
What do you already have in your office which you can use? Light coloured wood for a conference table is natural and has that relaxing feel to it when used in conjunction with other natural materials. Other light colours such as creams, light beiges, earthy wood shades, and light blues and greens are also ideal for tying into your new theme. It’s a good idea to figure out what you have already and use it, to cut down on the cash you’re going to use for your biophilic renovation. A glass reception desk can equally be used, as this reflects the light and compliments any type of greenery you have really well. 

These are just a few things to think about, but you also need to make sure that you look into ideas before choosing your final decor design. There are countless things you can try, from large moss walls to strategically placed plants, green carpets and white walls, to water features and textures. The idea is to create the sense that your employees are actually outdoors, when they are very much indoors. That should be your aim. 


The DOs and DON’Ts of Incorporating Nature Into Your Office Space

This type of office redesign cannot be done overnight and needs some professional advice(!), even if that does come from online research – just make it thorough. When done correctly, an biophilic designed office can look fantastic, creating the ideal luxury office environment. This will also really impress anyone who even glances in your direction. When done badly, biophilic designs can look cheap, poorly thought out, and can create a very negative impression instead. 

These are the main dos and don’ts to think about. 

  • Do ask if any of your employees have severe allergies. It’s no good adding lilies if one of your staff members is highly allergic! Instead, stick to mainstream natural elements, such as moss, greenery, etc. You’re not trying to create a colourful flower bed effect here, you’re going for a green canvas. Think of a forest, and that’s the aim you’re going for.
  • Do think about maintenance. Will you need to water your biophilic elements, feed them, prune them? Before you make a choice, do your research into maintenance and make sure you opt for designs and features which are low enough in maintenance to not be a huge issue.
  • Do incorporate textures for added effect. Make sure that any green design you place within your office has texture to make it seem and look real. A popular design here is a green moss or leafy wall, but it has to have the texture to go along with it, otherwise it’s simply going to look like green paint.
  • Do consider a centrepiece. One beautiful suggestion is to have a large tree in the centre of your office, which reaches up to the ceiling. Yes, it sounds ‘out there’, but it looks wonderful, especially in a reception area, to grab those positive first impressions.
    These types of designs are quite advanced and will require a professional designer to help you out, but the end result will be worth it.
  • Don’t forget other natural elements, such as water. A small water feature can be an extremely calming and wonderful addition to a biophilic office. This doesn’t need to be a gushing waterfall, it can be a small water fountain in the corner of the office, which could double up as a drinking water fountain, if you really wanted it to!
  • Don’t go OTT. We’ve just talked about a rather ‘out there’ idea, but at the same time, don’t go OTT and add greenery and forest elements to every single space. Just like nature, think ‘less is more’.
  • Don’t go fake. Plastic trees and leaves do not look good. That is all that needs to be said on that subject!

Maintenance Issues And How to Overcome Them

There are of course maintenance issues which go hand in hand with biophilic designs, such as watering, feeding, pruning, and greenery health, but as the benefits become apparent, it’s likely that these issues will not hold as much importance. The main maintenance considerations are: 

  • Leaf shedding – It completely depends on the type of greenery you choose, but some will shed leaves. In this case you need to be on hand to brush up those leaves so that they don’t become an eyesore! A biophilic office looks fantastic when maintained in the right way, but not when it needs a general tidy up.
  • Watering and feeding – It depends on the types of plants and trees you go for, but it might be that you need to feed them on occasion, and you’ll certainly need to water them. This is something you’ll need to educate yourself on, as different plants and trees require water and food at different times and in different amounts. You also need to have a watering method which doesn’t soak the office floor, as this would then become a potential health and safety issue.
  • Possible disease – All plants have the possibility of contracting a type of plant condition from time to time; the same can be said for garden and house plants. Again, it’s about choosing low risk greenery, and the good news is that the types of plants and trees which are generally used in biophilic office design do fall into this category, such as moss, as one example.
  • Pruning – As with shedding leaves, you might need to prune your natural elements on occasion, so that they don’t become out of control or a little unsightly. This is a quick and painless process, and shouldn’t need to be performed too often.
  • Insects – Highly unlikely, but as with plant diseases, there is a slight chance of insects taking up home in your greenery! Do some research (pick a biophilic interior design company) and ask for professional advice. They will tell you which types of plants are more likely to have this problem than others.

Plant wallpaper

Biophilic Office Design Ideas 

Now you know everything there is to know about biophilic office design and how it could help turn you regular office space, it’s time to think about how this could work with your office and what you already have in place, such as your regular modern office furniture

There are different degrees of biophilia. If you have a large budget and you have the space to really to go town, then you can opt for a large tree centrepiece, living green walls, and brand new executive office furniture to finish off the look. Not every business will have that kind of cash going spare, and in that case, you can opt for a more subtle biophilic office design instead.
Carefully placed plants, a natural decor and high end office furniture can also create a biophilic appearance. If you really want to go for the living green wall look which is so popular and really looks the part, then it’s a good idea to opt for moss. 

Moss is cheaper and far less heavy on the maintenance side of things. Moss doesn’t need as much light as many other types of greenery and it also doesn’t need as much water. This makes this type of living wall a fantastic option for offices on a budget, but who still want to grab the biophilic benefits!

Moss Wall Panel

Remember that there are also different shades of greenery, and combining darker shades with lighter ones looks fantastic. This is also something which can be done relatively cheaply, provided you do your research into maintenance of each type. By experimenting you can find the ideal look for your space. You could also continue the greenery vibe into your other office spaces, such as your lobby or your conference area too. Quality boardroom furniture with carefully placed potted plants in green shades are the perfect way to add nature to a space which so important in terms of concentration and decision-making. These types of plants are ideal for indoor use because they don’t really need that much sunlight in order to thrive healthily. In addition, how about suspending plants along walls?
This is a little like the hanging basket idea which many homes have, but when suspended along a glass partition or glass wall, it really looks impressive and modern. 

If you have large windows which really do look out towards pleasant views of natural spots then make sure you make the most of them. Having a visual and true connection to nature is what biophilic design is all about, so take down those blinds and make the most of that large window and that fantastic view you’re blessed to have. If you don’t have a great view, natural light is still vitally important and also fits in with the biophilic vibe. Plentiful natural light overlooking a reception counter will make your space look bright and open, rather than dark and closed; ideal for creating that perfect first impression. 

Finally, don’t forget add texture. The touch of nature is just as important as the feel and look. Think about the types of fabrics you use on your mesh chairs, as well as the natural colours which are incorporated. If you have carpets, think about the colour once more and the about how they feel under the feet. Touch is a sense which is often overlooked when it comes to design, because everyone assumes it’s all about the visual – it’s not. 

If you don’t have carpets, you’re actually far more towards the natural side of things with wooden laminate flooring.
The shade you opt for will be important here, so go for very natural wooden shades; nothing too light and nothing too dark. Bamboo flooring is also a great option to look into. Make sure you avoid anything synthetic or fake however, such as plastics, and instead opt for cottons and other natural materials. 

Other Modern Office Methods You Could Use Alongside Biophilic Office Design 

Biophilic office design is one way to create an attractive and enjoyable space, but it’s also mainly focused on health and wellness of employees. There are of course many others systems and methods you can look into, which may work really well alongside your new green office design. 

  • Focusing on The Environment – As you’re incorporating nature into your office space, it makes perfect sense that you should be more environmentally friendly as an office in general. Make sure you recycle things, bring more awareness of the planet to your employees, and basically do your bit for Mother Nature. Ironically, you’ll also save cash by being more environmentally friendly, because you’ll think twice about purchasing new ink cartridges, leaving electrical items on stand-by, and endless amounts of paper purchased and then wasted.
  • Active Working – It’s entirely possible to encourage your staff to be more active whilst at work, to avoid sedentary lifestyle risk factors. Active seating is a great idea. This completely avoids the needs to be sedentary and also gets the blood pumping for overall health and wellbeing! You could also use standing desks or height adjustable desks too.
  • Quiet And Collaborative Zones – A great way to allow staff the space to do what they need to do at any specific time is to have zones within your office. This means that those who need privacy can use floor standing screens within their quiet zone and have the peace to get on with quiet work, whilst those who need to collaborative and brainstorm can do so without worrying that they’re disturbing anyone. You could even think about acoustic panels too. Creating a breakout area and having quality modular breakout furniture is a good idea, and a flexible one too.
  • Employee Health And Wellness Packages – You’re already doing your bit for wellness by incorporating greenery into the office environment, but most businesses are now realising that they have a responsibility to offer employees certain benefits and wellness incentives as part of their employment. A few suggestions include mandatory training for health and safety (something they should have anyway), smoking cessation advice and help, private counselling for personal issues, discounted health insurance, discounted gym membership, etc. You should also ensure that you give your employees a comfortable place to work, with contemporary office storage for their personal belongings and a supportive chair as the bare minimums. All of this will benefit the business in the long run and certainly boost morale.

Plant on office desk

Final Thoughts

Biophilic office design not only looks fantastic, but it is also ideal for increasing the health and wellness of those who work within your office space. Here at Calibre Office Furniture we are big advocates of health and wellness, and we certainly champion the benefits that this type of office design can bring. Aside from anything else, this type of office appearance will have people making positive first impressions when they enter your reception area and the rest of your space. This could be enough to bring you further business in the long run!

Of course, biophilic office design takes time and effort, and it also takes planning and plenty of research. By putting in the right amount of time, you’ll be able to create a space which everyone can be proud of, complete with the odd high class touch here and there, such as designer office cupboards, for example! Remember to shop around for your furnishing needs and to see what existing options you have which may fit into your new natural vibe; you can easily search for local options, such as ‘London office furniture' online and find great deals. 

These nature-inspired living systems are important in delivering sustainable buildings; in addition, this innovative approach to office interior design is not only an "eco-thing", but is highly linked to the overall wellbeing and health of staff (end-users) too. It has measurable impacts on It creates spaces that are energising, stimulating and inspirational in our digital lives.

If you’d like to find out more about creating such a built environment, you can get a chance to attend an international 2-day event
(6 June 2019, Watford), based around biophilic projects, researches, innovations, ideas, patterns at different scales and much more.

The bottom line is that nature is certainly where it’s at, and if you can incorporate it into your office space, you’ll find major benefits coming your way. 


Thank you for reading!

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