In the year since the pandemic was declared, our built environment has faced its share of challenges, including how to attract and retain its workforce and visitors post COVID-19.
Emily Vernon, Managing Director of phs Greenleaf, explains how the pandemic has changed workforce expectations and why biophilic design could be key to a successful future.
The pandemic did not just change the way we use our built environment, it has created a fundamental shift in our attitude towards it, and what we need from it in order to return to our ‘new normal’.
Unnaturally long spells indoors have highlighted to the nation the importance of nature in our day-to-day lives. Lockdowns have fired our desire to be outside more and reconnect with the natural world.
Being with plants and nature makes us feel calm, content and safer. It is an innate connection with nature, known as biophilia. Now, more than ever, we understand how a walk in the countryside or a trip to the coast can positively impact our sense of well-being, both physically and mentally.
Biophilic design is about harnessing the power of nature and using it in the built environment to positively influence the people using it which, in turn, can improve well-being, productivity and sales.
Plants, trees, flowers and other natural materials serve a far greater purpose than simply creating a nice aesthetic for the workplace, they can deliver real tangible benefits, during and after the pandemic, including:
- Attracting existing and new customers/employees
- Improving dwell time in a space
- Increasing productivity and health
- Offering practical and innovative solutions to COVID measures
A fresh curb appeal
Many of the businesses phs Greenleaf is working with are taking a fresh look at their curb appeal in light of the pandemic. Now, more than ever, it is important to attract people back, whether it is employees coming back to the office, or customers returning to pubs and restaurants.
Attractive, thriving plants outside a premise gives the impression of a clean, healthy environment inside too, providing some reassurance to nervous visitors. Even simple fresh hanging baskets and potted trees are known to have an impact.
Studies have shown that plants and biophilic features positively impact people’s perceptions of the friendliness, comfort, freshness, and cleanliness of an environment or workplace*. If people see plants thriving in a space, they will assume it is a clean and healthy environment – a good place to thrive themselves.
Understanding biophilic design can help businesses tap into this psychology to ensure those returning to a space feel safe and happy, benefitting the business and its people.
People want to spend more time in natural-looking environments because they know they benefit from them. Studies have shown that offices experienced a 15% increase in productivity when plants were introduced to the environment**
Workers have also shown reduced anxiety and stress levels, and a greater sense of calm and well-being, in greener indoor environments, posting fewer sick days than those in environments with no planting.
It is not just office environments that see the positive impact plants have on behaviour. Plants have also been proven to influence retail, and even dining, habits by improving dwell times and therefore increasing spend. Studies have also shown that hotel guests will pay 35% more for a room with a landscaped view.
Using biophilia for COVID solutions
The global pandemic has changed the way we need to use our spaces. Social distancing, concerns over ventilation and air quality are all new challenges the built environment must address, and biophilia can help.
phs Greenleaf has developed a range of moveable cabinet planters and divider planting troughs that are helping businesses maintain social distancing without the need for garish signage or tape. These planters can act as directional aids or social dividers, creating different zones or appropriate distance between work areas, all whilst adding to the aesthetic of the indoor space, and creating a sense of well-being and calm that most conventional social distancing measures do not.
Our moveable living walls are helping to provide much needed flexibility for businesses too. They can be used to divide or open up an area, creating space or limiting occupants as required.
Plants are also great for acoustics, absorbing sound and reducing the need to raise your voice – a particular concern for an airborne virus.
They are famously good at improving air quality too. Extensive research by NASA revealed that plants can remove up to 87% of air toxins in 24 hours, creating healthier, cleaner air for those using the space. A fact that can help reassure staff and customers who see a space with lots of plants.
Where to start
You don’t need all the solutions, just the right ones for your business – and a good biophilic design does not have to break the bank. Small improvements can have a big impact, but ensure the planting is suitable for the space and properly maintained and cared for to keep it effective.
- Top air quality improvers
‘Mother-in-Law’s Tongue’ (Sansevieria) is a real super plant. Not only is it a great dust attractor, it converts CO2 into oxygen in the night. It also cleans the air of other toxins. NASA found just one ‘Mother-in-Law’s Tongue’ reduced benzene levels by over 50% in just 24 hours. Benzene can be found in paints and cleaning products. These are great on top of cabinets and dividers.
Living walls are also very good air purifiers. One metre square of living wall removes 2.3 kilos of CO2.
- Top acoustic plant
Moss walls are perfect for improving acoustics. They absorb sound, making them ideal for meeting spaces.
- Low light plant
Spathiphyllum are ideal for low light areas like lifts, ensuring they stay looking good longer.
- Trending plants
Spider Plants, Chinese Money Plants, Fejka and String of Pearls are all proving very popular in current biophilic design, reflecting a modern, innovative business to returning staff and customers.
phs Greenleaf has been providing planting and landscaping services to businesses for over 25 years, including indoor and outdoor plants, artificial and live planting, living walls, grounds maintenance and Christmas trees and decorations.
* Jumeno & Matsumoto (2013)
** Charles Hall & Melinda Knuth (2019)