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Biophilic Design as an integral Part of New Work

The world of work has changed dramatically in recent years. In 2022, full-time employees now often spend only two or three weekdays in the office. This change has been fuelled by digitalisation, globalisation and the Covid-19 pandemic, among other factors.

A significant proportion of employees no longer want to do without flexible working models in the future. This is shown by a survey conducted by the World Economic Forum in July 2021: two-thirds of the participants would still like the flexibility to work in a home office or from another location. Almost a third would even consider quitting if they had to work full-time in the office again.

More individuality for the masses

Prof. Dr Stephanie Kaudela-Baum researches the topic of New Work at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. She says that employees benefit from the new form of work by having their individual lifestyles taken into account, a better work-life balance, the avoidance of long commutes and a more attractive workplace.

In order for workers to return to the office regularly, their employers must find ways to offer added value compared to the home office. They can do this, for example, by providing high-quality workplace equipment and specially designed contact zones. This promotes focused and productive working hours and exchange between employees. In addition to keeping current employees happy, it is also important for companies to be able to attract new talents.

The workplace of the future is smart, healthy and green

To design workplaces that are meaningful and pleasant for their employees, some companies rely on biophilic design. This is based on the evolutionary-biological approach that humans have a desire to connect with living things. Natural or near-natural elements, such as plants or water, cork or clay, wood, sounds and light can be used to create a balance between people and the environment in interior spaces.

Plants form an essential part of Biophilic Design in offices. As we are drawn to nature, they enhance our sense of well-being and improve the attractiveness of workspaces. Plants positively influence cognitive abilities by increasing people's productivity and creativity.

A study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology showed that this happens through naturally occurring microbes in the soil. The smell of the microbes activates our neurons in the brain, which are responsible for producing the happiness hormone serotonin. Therefore, in combination with the scent of the soil, office plants lift our mood at work and reduce anxiety. This also coincides with our own experiences.

"When plants are used smartly, they form an integral element in the space ecosystem. Not only can they help people and the environment, but they can also increase business turnover via increased productivity, well-being and health."

Manuel Winter, CEO of Oxygen at Work

Filtering pollutants and improving air quality

Plants not only increase well-being, they also absorb CO2, increase humidity and filter almost all airborne pollutants. This point also makes plants an indispensable and functional element for healthy office environments.

According to a NASA study, the most common indoor pollutants include trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, benzene, xylene and ammonia. Trichloroethylene, for example, is found in paints and varnishes, formaldehyde in synthetic fabrics and benzene in tobacco smoke and dyes. On the other hand, xylene is released in car exhausts, while ammonia is found in window cleaners and floor waxes. In general terms, these are called volatile organic components (VOCs).

Promoting productivity through an understanding of spatial ecosystems

Office plants are often advertised with a number of benefits. However, to benefit from the positive effects of nature, it is essential to take care of the plants' well-being regularly and professionally. Another challenge remains the diversity of office spaces.

Only when houseplants are systematically integrated into a work environment, measurable improvements in employees' cognitive abilities and overall health can be achieved. By using IoT-based sensor technology and data-driven (science-based) metrics for indoor greening concepts, the health-promoting capabilities of indoor plants can be taken to the next level. To do this, their impact on the local indoor environment needs to be quantified, monitored and controlled according to space type and occupancy status.

When moving into a new office space, the level of pollutants in the air is often elevated due to new furniture, freshly painted walls or newly laid floors. Plants can be used to counteract this. For example, the chocolate manufacturer Lindt und Sprüngli deliberately uses the plant species Howea Forsteriana, which can absorb more formaldehyde, xylenes and toluene.


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