The rise of the healthy office

Scotscape are excited! Why? Because of the rise of the Healthy Office!
There is overwhelming evidence which demonstrates that the design of an office impacts the health, wellbeing and productivity of its occupants. A big part of that evidence is the benefits that plants bring (living walls) – to improve indoor air quality and to boost the biophilic values of an office – supporting our instinctive bond with nature.
Forbes magazine quoted ‘it emerged that when we work in green-certified offices, we get a 26% boost in cognition, and 30% fewer sickness related absences.  What’s more, respondents also reported a 6% rise in their sleep quality’.
‘An Exeter University study found that employees were 15% more productive when working in a ‘green’ office than their peers in more spartan environs.  A green office appeared to provide a boost to employee engagement, concentration levels and perceived air quality all showing a rise after the introduction of plants into the office’.
The studies stack up – the air purifying benefits of plants being cited by Nasa, Reading University , University of Georgia, Unversity of Agriculture Norway, Imperial College London, Greenwich University – the list is long…… our academic beacons study this because quantifiable evidence is crucial for the mainstream to adopt good practices.
So what does the World Green Building Council recommend in their guidance for Healthy Offices? Listed below are the key elements to creating healthy spaces and office wellbeing.
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.
Plants embrace several of these benchmarks – air quality through purification, thermal comfort via evapo-transpiration, biophilia by reconnecting us with nature, look and feel – plants and living walls not only have functional benefits but also look great! Plants extend also of course into landscaping and green breakout space to improve exercise engagement. All in all – considered planting both inside and out, makes a lot of sense……
If you would like some help with greening up your office or commercial building get in touch, the Scotscape team can bring a multitude of planting options to you from traditional pot/plant combinations, living walls, bespoke smart greening solutions, green roofs and landscaping to enhance your space and benefit your staff.