The average American office worker spends 90% of their working day indoors, and that this can become demoralizing should not come as a surprise. What may surprise you is to learn that, according to the Harvard Business Review more natural light and views of the outside world is a number one perk employees crave .
The United Nations also predicts that by 2030, 60 percent of the world’s population will live in urban environments, so access to parks and nature within cities will continue to dwindle and the desire for light and views will only increase.
A vast amount of research shows that access to nature, plants, and sunlight decrease stress and impact mental health, companies need to establish priorities for change. But moving to a glass-walled office building or building a mini-park in an existing one are unlikely to be options for most employers. So how can they better connect their employees to nature without moving operations outside completely, another near impossibility for most? Here are a few ideas.
Natural Lighting Magic
Studies show over one-third of employees don’t feel they get enough natural light, despite overwhelming evidence that access to sunlight affects our mood and overall mental health. Winter or summer, our brains rely on the release of hormones like serotonin, which is triggered by exposure to the sun. A lack of these hormones is widely believed to cause seasonal depression.
One way some companies are adding more natural light to their spaces – or at least the appearance of it – is by installing a circadian lighting system. These change throughout the day, reflecting the natural movement of the sun. Doing so aligns the lighting to people’s circadian rhythm, which regulates our sleep-wake cycle and can lead to reduced fatigue during the day and improved quality of sleep.
Add More Greenery
Plants improve air quality and add color to an interior space, and incorporating biophilia–the tendency of humans to focus on and affiliate with nature — to the office helps to relieve stress, improve cognitive health and increase job satisfaction in office workers.
In one study, a group of employees with plants and greenery around the workplace demonstrated a 30-60 percent reduction in stress levels, and research suggests that office plants greatly reduce the number of sick days employees take.
Incorporating plants into an office design is an easy decision. However, if space is limited, it may be a challenge to achieve the desired natural aesthetic with only potted plants. Modern offices are getting around this by creating “living walls” or “vertical gardens,” which feature an array of plants planted vertically against a wall or another structure.
Improve Air Quality
Contaminants in the air can cause fatigue, headaches, asthma, allergies and other upper respiratory illnesses. Not surprisingly, it also has a profound effect on our ability to do our best work. According to a Harvard study, working in a well-ventilated office with below-average levels of indoor pollutants and carbon dioxide (CO2) significantly increases cognitive functioning scores.
Plants help in purifying the air, however, employers must also filter the air with HVAC systems and select healthy materials to eliminate off-gassing of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Air quality should be monitored to determine if additional ventilation, filtration management, moisture and humidity control, or other measures are needed to maintain optimal air quality.