The Impact of Biophilic Design on Work Environments

The title of an article recently released by McKinsey, “Your organization is grieving—here’s how you can help,” elegantly captures the condition of many workplaces in the wake of the pandemic disruption.  As the essay explains, even the seemingly straightforward and logically congruent decision to have employees work from home has potentially damaging implications:

“This change to working arrangements has a compelling rationale, one that many employees understand and agree with. Yet more than a few of us admit privately that remote work is an emotional challenge for ourselves, our teammates, and our organizations as a whole. The uncertainty about when or how—and in some cases if—employees will return to office environments adds to already intense emotions and feelings of loss: some colleagues miss the office, others the commute, still others the energy they draw from in-person interactions with customers, clients, and colleagues.”

Dislocation from a familiar work environment is only one side of the concern, however. Returning to a work environment during or even after COVID-19 can be as or more stressful for workers as they attempt to reintegrate after a layoff or work-from-home period.

Eagle Hill Consulting recently surveyed employees on what employers could do to make them feel safe returning to their workplace. The results:

  • 42 percent say take employee temperatures
  • 41 percent say give employees a voice in “going back to work” strategies and decisions
  • 38 percent say make coming back to physical locations optional
  • 35 percent say to provide relevant support and guidance based on employee risk profiles.

In response to rising stress levels, mental health associations from around the globe have produced guidelines to help organizations support their staff as they negotiate the stress of returning to a work environment that was once familiar. Offices have been stripped of non-essential furnishings, large common tables, cafes, providing space between cubicles, in addition to social-distancing protocols, and diligent monitoring for symptoms.

Biophilic design focuses on design practices that bring natural elements indoors.

Safety and Comfort

One strategy common to many of these guidelines is for employers to create a work environment that emphasizes employee safety and comfort. But what does comfort mean in a world still struggling with the real threat of a second wave of COVID-19?

A recent study of employee well-being in work environments defines comfort as a factor of the following key drivers:

  • Thermal Comfort
  • Acoustic Comfort
  • Biophilia
  • Color
  • Office Appearance
  • Perceived Air Quality.

Biophilia, the third item on this list, refers to an ancient architectural and design concept that was reinvigorated in the 20th century by American biologist and researcher Edward O. Wilson in his writing on the innate and powerful connection between human emotions and the natural world. Biophilia, and by extension biophilic design, focuses on design practices that can be put in place to lessen the impact of an artificial disconnection from nature in our workplaces by bringing natural elements indoors in ways that mimic outdoor environments. It is not surprising that these practices have grown steadily in the past decade, given that a recent survey of 1,000 office workers reports that a full 35 percent do not get more than 15 minutes of outdoor time during the typical workday. In contrast, only 13 percent can enjoy 30 minutes out of enclosed office space.   

As work on quantitative improvement in the workplace environment continues to underscore, the impact of biophilic design features continues to be at the forefront of research on workplace health and employee well being.

Preserved Moss Wall Features Enhance Visual Comfort

As these studies suggest, integrating nature into a work environment, along with acoustic comfort and color, are decisive factors in creating a safe, comfortable workplace for employees returning to work after an extended absence.

Made from a 100 percent natural product preserved using natural oils, Quiet Earth Moss is a relatively maintenance-free, cost-effective way to bring nature into any office environment. Whether building upon the lushness of Reindeer Moss, the feathery qualities of Fern Moss, or the unique leafless qualities of Pole Moss, Designers can use preserved moss to enhance biophilic comfort in any workspace. Preserved moss products can be used alone in a single-moss accent wall, for instance, or be combined in a custom moss installation that creates repetitions and patterns that mimic those found in nature.

Finally, Quiet Earth’s Reindeer Moss is available in a range of hues that help Designers create an interior color palette emphasizing greens and blues. These colors reinforce biophilic design principles associated with what is known as the ecological valence theory (EVT), which states that people’s color preferences arise from their emotional responses to color-associated objects. Because green is often associated with nature, it is a color that triggers emotions associated with nature, most notably calm, peace, and tranquillity. Quiet Earth preserved moss products are available in six different shades of green (from dark to olive green) and seven soothing shades of blue (silver-grey to lavender) to give Designers a wide variety of options.

Studies have shown that adding the biophilic comfort of natural patterns and color can reduce stress and absenteeism as well as boost productivity and a sense of overall well-being by as much as 15 percent. Adopting biophilic design practices also provides a natural boost to melatonin levels and increases creativity by brightening the workplace with natural colors and accents.


Framed Moss Panels, with Pole Moss

Preserved Moss Enhances Acoustic Comfort

Preserved moss products also provide natural acoustic dampening, which enhances the acoustic comfort of any office environment. According to researchers from the Centre for Architectural Ecology at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), preserved reindeer moss panels have a sound absorption value (AW) of 0.96. This number means that a preserved moss acoustic panel absorbs sound at the same rate as a standard office carpet with underlay.

Quiet Earth Moss combines beautifully with ezoBord, a PET acoustic board made from recycled plastic bottles, adding different colors and textures to a unique design project. Designers and architects can work with these integrated design elements – preserved moss and ezoBord – to create spectacular and functional feature walls in any traditional or open-concept (cubicle-based) office layouts. The result is the same: a quieter, calmer, and more comfortable environment for your staff as they migrate back into the office from their kitchen table or living room workstations

Framed Moss Panels, with Pole Moss

Comfort that is also Cost-Effective

With stress levels at historic highs, the costs associated with managing staff health and wellness are likely to skyrocket in the coming months. With its emphasis on comfort and balance, biophilic design provides the calming office décor and natural office decorating proven to benefit staff well-being as people begin the transition back into the post-COVID workplace. Even before COVID turned work-life balance topsy-turvy, American businesses were spending over $30 billion annually dealing with the short- and long-term impacts of health issues and absenteeism related, directly and indirectly, to job-related stress.

Quiet Earth’s preserved custom moss walls give Designers and architects an exciting new option when looking to create a unique, peaceful aesthetic that optimizes comfort, reduces stress, and leverages the many additional benefits of biophilic design practices. Weighing only a fraction (about 25 percent) of traditional living walls or large plant displays, preserved moss walls are easy to install in either new or renovation projects. And because they never require watering or light, there is no need for retrofitting an extensive infrastructure. Less work equals additional savings with no cost in terms of the benefits to be realized by bringing a bit of nature into your office. A preserved moss wall is also virtually maintenance-free, requiring only occasional dusting with a blow dryer set on a low temperature or the compressed air used for cleaning computer keyboards.

Final Thoughts

Morneau Shepell, the Toronto-based human resources services and technology company, recently noted that workers scheduled to return to the office are doing so with a lower mental health score than those essential or front-line workers who never left. The risk to these workers rises the longer they are forced to work from home due to pandemic disruptions. The most common symptoms include difficulty getting motivated to work (36 percent) and more difficulty concentrating on the task at hand (34 percent). At the same time, 34 percent of workers fear getting sick during the pandemic regardless of where they are working. And not surprisingly, these symptoms register significantly worse in workers who feel lonely or isolated.   

Although biophilic design cannot relieve the stress associated with returning to the office during this pandemic period, it can go a long way in enhancing any workplace’s comfort and safety. As part of any biophilic design, Quiet Earth Moss products effectively bring calm and comfort to any office. Using moss panels or a moss accent wall to create a biophilic experience is a beautiful, cost-effective, and scientifically proven way to help your staff negotiate the emotional struggles that might come with returning to work.

As your employees and business adapt to the new realities of the pandemic world, people will more than ever be looking for a sense of connection, safety, and calm. A custom moss wall is not the solution, but it can be an essential piece of a larger, powerful puzzle that can help your staff return to work with some sense of comfort and peace of mind.