green wall in open officeUsing elements of biophilic design — such as a green wall — in an open office can create a much more relaxing environment for occupants.

Biophilia, Reliable Tech: Two Keys to Open Office Success

Bringing the outdoors inside and making sure WiFi is available in all corners of the space can lead to productivity gains for open office plans.

By Ali Summerford  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: Overcoming Open Office Obstacles That Sabotage SuccessPt. 2: This Page

The addition of plants or elements of biophilic design can create a more relaxing environment for workers. Most people do not want to be stuck indoors all the time, so it is often beneficial to bring nature into the office. This includes having natural light shine into the office as well as adding greenery.

Even mixing artificial with natural can be helpful. People want the outside feel. Because they typically work at least 40 hours at a physical office, they want a connection with outside. Studies show that natural light and images of nature can help with the overall health of employees. Even if they are artificial, such as photos of nature, it can have a positive impact. Something as simple as keeping flower arrangements that are consistently replaced in the reception area can also work. It’s a bonus that is a welcoming sight for both employees and clients. If sustainability is an issue, flowers and foliage do not have to be real – even swapping out artificial plants can help keep the office space from becoming stale.

Besides adding plants to the office space, natural looking materials can also be key to bringing nature into the workplace. This includes woods and stones that bring that outdoor feel inside. Even laminates have come a long way over the years. Their appearances used to leave a lot to be desired, but they now deliver more realistic looks.

Digital imagery has improved the ability to design with biophilia. With the ability to photograph and print high-resolution imagery from a smartphone or tablet, it is now easier to bring a forest or beach scene into a corporate office.

From an industry standpoint, healthcare is leading the charge with biophilia. Healthcare patients have been found to experience healing benefits when exposed to environments that incorporate biophilia into their design. Exposure to natural elements — whether directly from nature or through art — can aid in the patients’ healing process.

Green walls are also growing in popularity. A green wall, also known as a living wall or vertical garden, is a wall that is partially or completely covered with greenery. Most green walls include a water delivery system that is integrated into the wall. When green walls were introduced as a design element around a decade ago, many companies did not know how to maintain them or handle the operational costs. Many green walls would die and become an eyesore. There are new versions available now that are more self-sustaining. For example, some feature air plants or mosses that are extremely low maintenance. These walls help from an acoustical standpoint, but also provide visual separation adding greenery for the office.

Adding color is like adding life into a space. Many designers want to go with neutral colors, especially for long-term tenants of buildings. However, staying away from grey, white, tan and beige will make a space more vibrant. This includes not only walls, but ancillary pieces as well. Color can also be used to bring branding into the office environment. It can also be used for wayfinding with larger corporate offices that may be easy to get lost in.

Avoid dead zones

With open offices, technology is a key component to ensuring productivity. After all, technology drives and guides business in practically every industry. The office needs to embrace it and integrate it. Many companies have gone to laptops for everyone. Very few use desktops anymore and view cords as a obstacle to their flexibility. An employee cannot move to different spaces throughout an office if his or her computer is plugged into a wall.

Companies need to make sure that the WiFi is powerful and prevents having dead zones in the office space, which will hurt productivity and limit the amount of space that can be utilized in the office. Employees will avoid certain areas of the office if there is a weak or non-existent internet connection. Many times, a computer is only as good as its internet connection.

Companies also need to keep up with software. The purpose of business software is to improve the work efficiency of employees. It is one of the most important assets for business. It does not have to be a major investment for the company, either. Many software programs and new apps come out each year that are free or inexpensive for budget-conscious companies.

The amount of wasted time waiting for AV equipment and software to work correctly can quickly add up. The system needs to be user friendly and should not require the assistance of IT or office administration personnel to set up every time. Staying up to date on the latest technology will often help with the efficiency of projects being completed and can help with them being done on time.

The popularity of open office space does not seem to be ending anytime soon. Although it can be great for collaboration, there are obstacles it can provide that include noise issues and WiFi dead zones. To prevent these issues from hurting employee productivity, it is imperative that companies understand the importance of acoustics throughout the office when designing the layout and invest in the proper amount of technology to keep things running smoothly. Adding biophilia into the office’s design can also deliver a more relaxing environment for employees and provide an atmosphere that everyone enjoys.

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, among other areas.

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