Unsurprisingly, Australia’s offices are in some of the most urbanised settings in the world, with 93 per cent in an urban context.
However, the design of our offices aren’t compensating for urban squeeze and its potential negative impacts on worker well-being.
Open plan offices remain a concern, with less than half (48 per cent) of Aussie office workers reporting in a recent survey that they were most productive in open plan settings. Contributing to this is the 37 per cent of workers who can’t find a quiet space to work when they needed it.
You be asking why it matters. While these design elements may be nice to have, what’s the ROI on work spaces that are remodeled to better suit workers?
In a knowledge economy, employees are often the most important and expensive recurrent investment. Worker well-being, and thereby efficiency, is everyone’s business from the Board down.
“Overwhelming research confirms that that office design impacts the health, well-being and productivity of occupants, said Jorge Chapa, executive director Green Star, Green Building Council of Australia.
“The Green Building Council of Australia has long advocated that a sustainable building is good for the environment and good for people too. We now have hundreds of Green Star-rated offices around Australia, but too many people still work in office environments that are not healthy, productive or sustainable. The Global Human Spaces report further confirms the need to provide Australians with the benefits of well-designed office spaces.”
One of the most effective ways of improving work environments is the inclusion of natural elements like greenery and sunlight. Some 20 per cent of respondents in Australia reported a higher level of well-being in these environments. An impressive 30 per cent% of workers were more creative, an essential trait in the knowledge economy, while four per cent were more productive.
Office design is also important for recruitment, with 20 per cent of respondents saying that it impacts their decision to work for a company.
So how do we go about shifting the needle on these measures?
Biophilic design may be the framework you’re looking for. It’s an approach to building design that improves physical and mental well-being by connecting people and nature. Market innovators like Google are embracing it and it’s what workers want.
Asked what design features would be in their ideal workspace, 54 per cent of workers said natural light, 25 per cent said indoor plants and 17 per cent would like a view of the sea. Each of these is a key element of biophilic design. Including indoor plants is easy, but more natural light or sea views may be impossible without moving.
But biophilic design doesn’t always have an overt inclusion of nature. Some design companies have product ranges that are developed with design cues to the natural world, though patterns, colours, textures and other natural analogues. It’s been proven that these natural analogues can have the same impact on well-being as more overt biophilic elements like vegetation.
Conventional Australian office spaces have a problem, and nature can provide a solution. Taking cues from the natural environment and bringing them into our urbanized settings could revolutionise employee well-being and boost productivity and efficiency.