Office design is one of those things that huge amounts of cash goes into, but that often leaves workers wondering where it all went. You’ve seen Google and Apple turn on the style in their “plexes” and “campuses”, but the reality for most small businesses is non-descript spaces in muted greys and blues with little natural light and some dodgy air conditioning.
Over the decades, we’ve gone from open offices to stuffy cubicles and back to open offices again, and still no one’s happy. But why should we be? After all, it’s quite possible you’ll spend up to a third of your life sitting at desks, dutifully staring at a screen and secretly longing for the day that Sarah quits so you can have the only window seat in the room.
Office design should be comfortable and conducive to creative collaboration. And whether you are the CEO of a startup or a nomadic freelancer, you might also hope, you know, that the space you spend so much of your life in, is not slowly killing you. Numerous reports and studies over the past 20 years have linked poorly designed offices to both physical and emotional problems in workers. Whether it’s the constant stress of loud environments or a decline in cognitive function due to poor air, neglecting the quality of your working environment can have pretty damaging effects on health, well-being, and productivity.
But perhaps expensive redesigns and idealistic visions of what an office space needs are missing the point. Perhaps there’s a simpler and more intuitive approach to improving office life, an approach that lies just beyond Sarah’s highly coveted window seat. The world is slowly waking up to the benefits of green living, and it’s time for your office or working space to follow suit. Say hello to the eco office of the future.
The Outdoors, Indoors
Biophila—a term coined in the ‘80s by Edward O. Wilson to describe humanity’s simple yet innate tendency to seek connections with the natural world. Whether it’s flora or fauna, mountain or valley, it seems that even the most hardened city dweller still longs for just a little bit of the great outdoors. Worryingly, however, The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace report from Human Spaces discovered that 47% of offices have no natural light and 58% have no plant life at all. Pretty depressing.
Solving the problem can be simple though, and eco-friendly offices can be built retroactively. Offices deep in the heart of the urban environment can easily introduce plants that improve air quality significantly and promote productivity and wellbeing, leading to reduced stress and sickness. Freelancers, of course, might want to think about their very own pet plant! Even the act of caring for a floral friend is thought to bring numerous health benefits, and she can follow you wherever you go!
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For those in more rural settings, optimizing what’s outside through larger, triple-glazed windows is a great way to improve wellbeing and help the environment. Better sound and heat insulation will ensure your office uses less energy while offering more window seats to employees can significantly boost morale and motivation.
Eco garden offices with carefully curated gardens can also make a huge difference both in the city and outside it. However a big window onto the carpark won’t cut it, you need to think carefully about what you are planting and how it will be cared for. A well-tended garden not only improves the view but can also offer a welcome oasis for wildlife, particularly for bees, one species that is particularly threatened by the ever-growing urban sprawl of cities. If a garden is too big of a task, placing plants around the office is also a great idea.
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The Air We Breathe
Every breath you take, the boss is watching you. And if that wasn’t enough, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, it could also be making you sick and impairing your cognitive function. Indoor air quality depends largely on effective ventilation systems that continuously replace used air with fresh air. However, most office air conditioning units are poorly maintained, while a lack of openable windows only compounds the issue. Add to this the ecological impact of air conditioning units, and your office might be harming both you and the environment.
VOCs (volatile organic compounds) emitted from electronic equipment are also thought to contribute to poor indoor air quality, and so naturally, the less tech you have in poorly ventilated rooms, the better for your health and concentration. However, this solution is unrealistic in our technology driven workplaces, and so ensuring the equipment used is energy efficient and minimizes VOC emissions is a viable eco office solution that helps employees breathe and saves the environment at the same time.
Again, introducing plants can also improve air quality, while using environmentally-friendly cleaning products and cutting down on toxic chemicals in any setting has been shown to reduce VOCs and minimize many harmful toxins from both the air and the water table. Finally, digital nomads take note, the quality of the air on planes is generally terrible, so for your own sake and the environment’s, try to minimize flights wherever possible.
The World is a Noisy Place
Noise pollution is a big thing, and while it doesn’t have quite the same profile as plastic pollution or air pollution, the WHO classifies it as an environmental and health issue that has similarly detrimental effects to our health and the natural world. In fact, for some people, it’s enough to drive them to distraction. Ever heard of The Hum? Well, whether you believe in this intangible threat to humanity or not, there’s no denying that noisy offices are the enemy of concentration. Too much noise stresses people out, its lowers productivity and kills motivation, it can even make cause sharp spikes in employee irritation on a biological level by triggering fight or flight responses.
Good eco office design here is crucial, and whether you work in an open space or with cubicles, employing a range of quiet areas alongside sound absorbing materials can make a big difference to the overall ambience. However, keeping a room full of people quiet is no easy task, after all, it’s only human to talk! Perhaps then, changing the way we communicate is the answer. But for that, we need new tools.
Spike lets teams collaborate and chat through email, however, it’s more responsive and better equipped to handle the way we work in the 21st century than email alone. It’s also instant; ensuring you can chat just like you would in real life but with only the quiet tapping of your keyboard instead of a shouted conversation across the desk. Finally, it also allows employees to minimize the incessant ping and buzz of app notifications, one of the biggest causes of stress in the office today.
The Office is a Dump
Messy desks can really get on people’s nerves. Even worse when one messy desk begins to encroach upon another……is this YOUR picture of Katie Perry? They’re also a hive of germ activity, and it’s thought that the average computer keyboard is something like 20,000 times dirtier than your toilet seat. Just think about that for a second “al desko” diners. However, messy desks are one thing, messy offices are quite another, and if you want to create a true eco office, then you need to address the mess as a team!
Clean offices that prioritize waste minimization and focus on green practices such as recycling have been shown to bring tangible benefits for office workers. Proper waste management ensures offices are healthier to work in, but it also helps employees foster a sense of pride in their environment. For example, recycling can help build team working skills through a sense of shared responsibility, sustainability education provides new perspectives on the value of materials and labor, while company-wide initiatives such as food or clothing donation programs provide a concrete link to the local community that your workers call home.
For those offices with eco gardens, composting waste food is also a great way to foster a sense of shared community, plus it reduces the amount of material going to landfill significantly—a practice that is crucial in the fight against our ever-growing piles of waste.
Remember, no eco office is an island, and taking responsibility for waste ensures everyone can work together towards a bigger goal.
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