Sustainability, Biophilia and Technology Benefit Occupants and Clients

10/09/2019 By Ali Summerford

Companies are in constant competition to recruit and retain employees, and a winning workplace environment makes the difference toward securing a more productive (and profitable) workforce.

Workplaces that provide variety and encourage in-office mobility can be effective and optimize employee performance.

Optimizing occupant performance through the physical workplace is becoming more important for decision makers. The interior design of offices, lounges and other spaces are becoming even more important.

Plants and views of nature brought into a design can have a positive impact on employees as well as health care patients as practiced by Missouri Baptist Hospital in St. Louis
(Photo: Plants and views of nature brought into a design can have a positive impact on employees as well as health care patients as practiced by Missouri Baptist Hospital in St. Louis. Credit: Alise O’Brien Photography)

Not just in the corporate office sector, but health care, senior services and hospitality industries are seeing these benefits as well.

What does an inspiring, welcoming workplace experience look like? And what trends are designers taking advantage of to achieve this?

Biophilia

Among the most prevalent trends is utilizing biophilia in the design. This has become especially popular in corporate workspaces and health care settings.

Evidence-based design shows that an environment without nature or nature like elements can have a negative effect on the health and productivity of employees in all types of facilities.

Items that can be brought into a design that have a positive impact on occupants include:

  • Natural light
  • Textures and materials
  • Plants and views of nature

In fact, having natural light be accessible throughout the day is conducive to a more productive environment for employees, and in health care it helps patients in their rehabilitation efforts and provides energy savings to the hospital.

As shown at Missouri Baptist Hospital in St. Louis, natural light in health care helps patients in their rehabilitation efforts
(Photo: As shown at Missouri Baptist Hospital in St. Louis, natural light in health care helps patients in their rehabilitation efforts. Credit: Alise O’Brien Photography)

Sustainability

While not a new concept, sustainability — in terms of the context of the materials used — continues to be a growing trend in interior design. End users are requesting a longer life in the materials that are used in the design.

Instead of only following trends, more end users are looking for materials that will last (and be timeless). Sustainable materials being used now include:

  • Metals mixed in with woods and marble, which are making a strong comeback.
  • Stone is being used a lot and is very sustainable.

Sustainable interior design can be accomplished by efficiently using space, using recycled materials, and choosing non-toxic and non-polluting products. This will help minimize negative impacts on the environment as well as the occupants of the building.

[Related: Open Sky Factory’s Sky Compositions Are Healing Illusions of Nature]

Certifications

Similar to biophilia and sustainability, more people are focused on following the different building certifications. Companies are finding this to be important because occupants spend a large majority of weekdays in the office.

Common certifications include:

  • ENERGY STAR
  • Fitwel
  • Green Globe
  • LEED
  • Living Building Challenge
  • WELL Building Standard

Common Spaces

Corporate offices are also offering a variety of common areas for employees to work and gather. Architects and designers are moving away from designing enclosed meeting spaces and conference rooms to boost collaboration and productivity across multiple teams.

Lounge areas, game rooms, huddle spaces and micromarts are all gaining in popularity
(Photo: Lounge areas, game rooms, huddle spaces and micromarts are all gaining in popularity. Credit: Megan Lorenz)

In the world of design, the process of eliminating or relocating enclosed offices around the core of the building can create a challenge in relation to acoustics.

Not all spaces are adaptable to this, which can drive costs when trying to maintain that acoustical balance between quiet work areas and common spaces.

For projects or spaces with a smaller footprint (and budget), implementing focus rooms as designated quiet workspaces and private call areas can have a big payback in terms of reducing stress and increasing overall employee wellbeing.

Beyond workspaces, other types of common spaces have grown in popularity.

  • Lounge areas, game rooms, huddle spaces and cafes are all gaining in popularity. People are looking for a variety of fun spaces to break away. This includes wine lockers as well as lounge areas to host events outside of work.

  • Health and wellness amenities are also more popular. For example, offering wellness room areas for nursing moms are much more mainstream than in the past. Pop-up bars with chair massages and farm to table restaurants with healthy options are also starting to be included more.

Having natural light be accessible throughout the day is conducive to a more productive environment for employees.
(Photo: Having natural light be accessible throughout the day is conducive to a more productive environment for employees. Credit: Megan Lorenz)

Technology

In health care, virtual reality is beginning to be utilized more with telemedicine. This is beneficial to those who have a lack of mobility or don’t have easy access to a local care provider, which can be an issue in rural areas.

In exam rooms, it’s a factor that has to be considered when determining a design.

If it’s a possibility for a hospital or health care facility to use telemedicine in the future, it must be accounted for in the physical space. Cameras, monitors and connectivity, for example, need to all be in the proper places to be effective when used in telemedicine.

As 2020 and a new decade nears, it’s clear that biophilia, sustainability and technology will continue to play major factors in the interior design as high-level decision makers put the environment and their employees’ and clients’ health and wellbeing at the forefront.

Read next: Five Things You Need to Know About the Changing Office

About the Author:

Ali Summerford, interior design director at Oculus Inc., has more than 20 years of interior design experience with an emphasis in management, client relations, specifications, space planning and design presentations.

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