Bringing the outdoors into the office

Walking in the woods, strolling along a beach or paddling a canoe across a tranquil lake can do wonders for one's heart rate. It can also spark creativity and provide a break from one's frenetic daily pace.

In the same way, bringing touches of nature into the office can make employees happier, more creative, energetic and more productive, said Mike Warren, Workplace Culture Consultant for Rieke Office Interiors of Elgin.

“The sterile workplaces of the past are being replaced by offices which allow employees to relate to nature throughout the day,” he explained. “For instance, in modern office design, there are seldom private offices along the perimeter of the space. Instead of only allowing executives to enjoy those windows, in today's office designs everyone can enjoy the outdoor views and the natural light provided by those windows.

“Whenever possible, great office design harvests natural light for the whole office to enjoy,” Warren said.

Some companies are even choosing their office buildings based on views. Those firms want their employees to be able to be inspired by enjoying views of forest preserves and landscaped areas. In fact, outdoor patios, decks and eating areas are becoming more common as innovative firms use the space around their building to create areas where employees can go outside for lunch or a short break.

Many companies that cannot access beautiful outdoor views are creating nature-centric interiors using large green plants or “living walls” of plants which climb or are planted in pots embedded into walls using chicken wire or trellises or other similar constructions.

“Green plants are not only easy on the eyes, but they also filter impurities from the air while adding oxygen,” Warren said.

Natural light is also very important for productivity. Windows, skylights and atriums are important, but so is better artificial lighting. Since the color spectrum of LED lighting can mimic sunlight (unlike the harsher fluorescent and incandescent lighting), it has become the new standard in office lighting.

“LED lighting has become a big deal in office lighting,” Warren said. “It is healthier and friendlier for employees. Unlike fluorescent lights, LED lights don't flicker or hum and the intensity of the light does not dim over time.

“Today it is all about keeping employees happy and satisfied in order to increase company productivity. Happy, engaged employees are more creative and that translates to increased profitability,” Warren added.

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