A 10% Productivity Increase in Any Office through Biophilia and Why You Need to Care About It

The cost of poor Working Environments for YOU

Bad workplace design proliferates in Australia. Offices are designed by imbeciles with degrees in Vogue magazine cover design. It’s your life that’s being played with. They don’t care. That’s true isn’t it? Flowers and pot plants are banned because one person in 10,000 has an allergy. You suffer for the vast minority. Are you sure you want to risk your life for a dollar? Another example: Fluorescent lights have been proven time and time again to mess with your head. Does your office have fluorescent lights? Does your company say “we care about our staff but turn a blind eye to the biophilic aspects of your workplace?” If so, it’s time for you to take responsibility and take back control. Your life and health depends on it.

Now lets Flip this upside down and see what it’s costing you as an employer:

Costs of ill-health vary by sector and country, and are rarely comparable, but the impact is clear:

• The annual absenteeism rate in the US is 3% per employee in the private sector, and 4% in the public sector, costing employers $2,074 and $2,502 per employee per year respectively

• Poor mental health specifically costs UK employers £30 billion a year through lost production, recruitment and absence

• The aggregate cost to business of ill-health and absenteeism in Australia is estimated at $7 billion per year, while the cost of ‘presenteeism’ (not fully functioning at work because of medical conditions) is estimated to be A$26 billion.

The full weight of this productivity issue is thrown on your shoulders and overzealous HR management deem poor performance to be a human engagement issue or a poor skill issue, but the answer to poor performance maybe the HR department and the company coaching programme distracting everyone from the real cause.

There is overwhelming evidence which demonstrates that the design of an office impacts the health, wellbeing and productivity of its occupants. For many readers, that will sound so obvious it almost goes without saying. But it does need saying, loud and clear, because this evidence has not yet had a major influence on the mainstream real estate sector, and is not yet translating at scale into design, finance and leasing decisions, certainly not in all parts of the globe. Furthermore, our understanding of the health, wellbeing and productivity implications of office design is deepening, aided by advances in technology and a growing awareness amongst a small number of enlightened developers, owners and tenants. For instance, it is increasingly clear that there is a difference between office environments that are simply not harmful – i.e. the absence of ‘bad’ – and environments that positively encourage health and wellbeing, and stimulate productivity.

Indoor Air Quality:

The health and productivity benefits of good indoor air quality (IAQ) are well established. This can be indicated by low concentrations of CO2 and pollutants, and high ventilation rates. It would be unwise to suggest that the results of individual studies, even meta-analyses, are automatically replicable for any organisation. However, with this important caveat, a comprehensive body of research can be drawn on to suggest that productivity improvements of 8-11% are not uncommon as a result of better air quality.

Thermal comfort:

This is very closely related to IAQ, and indeed separating out the benefits is difficult. However, the relationship is clear, with research demonstrating that thermal comfort has a significant impact on workplace satisfaction. Suggesting a general rule about the size of productivity gains is not a robust exercise because of the importance of specific circumstances and the lack of comparability between studies. However, studies consistently show that even modest degrees of personal control over thermal comfort can return single digit improvements in productivity. The importance of personal control applies to other factors too, including lighting.

Daylighting & lighting:

Good lighting is crucial for occupant satisfaction, and our understanding of the health and wellbeing benefits of light is growing all the time. It can be difficult to separate out the benefits of daylight – greater nearer a window, of course – from the benefits of views out of the window. Several studies in the last decade have estimated productivity gains as a result of proximity to windows, with experts now thinking that the views out are probably the more significant factor, particularly where the view offers a connection to nature.

Biophilia:

The rise of biophilia, the suggestion that we have an instinctive bond to nature, is a growing theme in the research. A growing scientific understanding of biophilic design, and the positive impact of green space and nature on (particularly) mental health, has implications for those involved in office design and fit-out, developers and urban planners alike.

Noise:

Being productive in the modern knowledge-based office is practically impossible when noise provides an unwanted distraction. This can be a major cause of dissatisfaction amongst occupants. Interior layout: Noise distraction relates closely (although by no means solely) to interior layout. There are a whole range of fit-out issues that can have an effect on wellbeing and productivity, including workstation density and configuration of work space, breakout space and social space. These factors influence not just noise but concentration, collaboration, confidentiality and creativity. Many companies instinctively know this and regularly engage in exercises to optimise layout. However, the research that informs this remains less quantifiable and needs to be further developed.

Look & feel:

The same could be said about research around office ‘look and feel’, which is seen as superficial by some, and yet should be taken seriously as having a potential impact on wellbeing and mindset – both for occupier and visiting clients. Look and feel (and interior layout), being highly subjective, is something which is likely to be experienced differently by people of different age, gender and culture.

Active design & exercise:

A guaranteed route to improved health is exercise. This can be encouraged by active design within the building, and access to services and amenities such as gyms, bicycle storage and green space, some of which may be inside the office building or office grounds, or in the local vicinity. There is not a huge amount of research on the link between exercise and office-based productivity, although that which does exist suggests a lower number of sick days for those who cycle to work.

Amenities & location:

The local availability of amenities and services are increasingly recognised in research as being important for occupiers. Childcare in particular can be the difference between working and not working on a given day, and in the relatively few studies that have tried to quantify it, the financial impact for employers has been significant.