The changing tides of workplace design
Office and workplace design are constantly changing to meet the needs of the times. Technological advances, new resource requirements, and corporate growth demands are instrumental in the shifting tides of our modern workspaces. We are currently in the midst of a workplace design revolution. A renewed focus on employee health and wellness is at the forefront of this new wave of innovation and change.
In order for us to understand the next era in workplace design, it’s important to know the evolution of the workplace environment and the forces that produced the open office spaces and cubicle-laden interior landscapes that we’re all familiar with today.
The Open Plan Office: 1950’s
Office design as we know it today began in the 1950s where the goal was to implement a “Fordist” method in offices that prized efficiency and standardization. Offices of this era were designed to be self-sufficient and separated from the outside world. Fluorescent lighting and air conditioning took the place of sunlight and fresh air. It was during this time that the open floor plan was developed, an office design that lasts to this day.
The Cubicle Farm: 1980’s
The 1950’s office design laid the foundation for the next fifty years of office design. It influenced workplace aesthetics and operations with a focus on corporate structure and resource efficiency. The evolution of the office took its next big leap towards modernity in the 1980s at a time when technology was improving by leaps and bounds. This tech-driven workplace environment prized open communication, profitability, and “lean” operating procedures. The result of these ideologies and processes are the now infamous cubicle farms of the 1980s. Defined by a gray, barren aesthetic, these offices aimed for efficiency and proficiency above all else. The lines were clean and the office plants and wall paintings were sparse. Cubicle farms would fall out of favor in the 1990s with the reemergence of the open office plan. However, cubicles remain an integral part of office environments around the globe.
Introducing the Biophilic Design Era: 2018
Fast forward to 2018 and the tides of change have led us to the next era of workplace design. We are now standing on the precipice of the biophilic design era. Biophilic design is unique in its level of influence because it transcends simple furniture styles and office layouts, and has made a direct impact on contemporary architecture and commercial building practices.
Biophilic design is an architectural framework that weaves patterns of nature into the built environment, strengthening the human-nature connection. What makes the trend work though, is through the effective incorporation of natural elements such as stone, various types of wood, living green walls, water features, and plants into the interior environment.
Beyond the infusion of natural materials into the workspace, the biophilic method also incorporates a plethora of natural lighting to help people maintain a natural circadian rhythm. Other standard practices include gaining access to fresh air through high-performance HVAC systems and building with pollutant-free materials that help contribute to air quality. Lastly, an important feature of biophilic design is an active and mobile workplace. An architectural design that encourages movement such as walking and stair climbing keeps people active and prevents sedentary behavior. It can even help employees achieve their exercise goals.
When combined, all of these features create a workplace that optimizes the environment for performance, health, and well-being. The building occupants can then more easily achieve peak physical and mental performance. However, what truly makes this design trend effective is our deeply ingrained ties to nature and the natural world. According to the biophilia hypothesis, from which the design is based, humans “possess an innate tendency to seek connections to nature and other forms of life,” which is why biophilic principles are effective. When we are exposed to natural forms and patterns in our workplace, we will respond as though we’ve been exposed to the real thing.
Sustainable Buildings & Healthy People:
The rise of biophilic design has had a similar trajectory to the popular green architecture trend that took over the engineering and construction world in the late ’90s and early 2000s, giving rise to commercial buildings and offices that were both environmentally friendly and energy-efficient. The design trend is the continuation of the green architectural movement, a progression towards a happier, healthier future for employees.
The concepts of biophilia are being propelled by changes in our greater society like health and wellness trends along with emerging workplace standards such as a renewed focus on employee well-being and happiness. Research into the working environment’s psychological and physiological effects on workers has also contributed to the rise of biophilic design.
But what are the core benefits of biophilic design that have everyone from human resources and company executives to facility and property managers and architects so excited? To start, the traditional workplace, up until recently, has had a net negative impact on the human body. This leads to a laundry list of health risks that cut into productivity, efficiency, and increase health insurance premiums.
Health Risks Associated with Traditional Workplace Environments include:
- Sick building syndrome
- Increased risk of diabetes
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Disruptions to circadian rhythm
- Increased risk of depression
To effect positive change and create a workplace that benefits the people and accentuates productivity and well-being, biophilic elements are changing the way we work and receiving critical acclaim from workplace design pioneers such as Amazon and Google, along with companies large and small across the U.S and abroad.
The most impressive benefits of biophilia and biophilic design, in particular, are increased productivity, decreased employee absenteeism, and an increase in employee happiness which is associated with lower stress and overall improvements in mental health. A core component leading to biophilic design’s psychological benefits stems from plants, but there are a host of factors that contribute to the trend’s impressive list of positives.
Psychological and Physiological Benefits of Biophilic Design:
- Overall Stress Reductions
- Positive Moods
- Increased Attention and Focus
- Mental Restoration & Reduced Mental Fatigue
- Improved Cognitive Performance on Tasks
- Reduced Pain Perceptions in Healthcare Settings
With the biophilic design trend gaining momentum, we can only expect to see more of it in the coming years. As businesses become more aware of the overwhelming mental and physical benefits to their workforce and the growth of their bottom line, biophilic design will become even more prevalent over time.
Every major workplace design movement has a beginning and an end. We’ve found this to be true from the early days of the open office plan to the rise and fall of the cubicle farm. At present, it appears the biophilic method is on the cusp of becoming the next great innovation in office design. Consequently, productivity and the bottom line will no longer be the sole focus for businesses. The method will usher in a new era with a focus on the noble pursuit of employee well-being and happiness.
Want to learn more about how biophilic designs can impact your office? We recommend exploring The Official Biophilic Design Trends Guide for Commercial Environments.