The biophilic home office

Image by Simply-C-Photography for Fusion Spaces

Biophilic design need not be confined to office buildings and other commercial spaces. The benefits of biophilic design can be obtained in the home office too, and without having to spend a fortune. My recent post for Fusion Spaces explores the benefits of biophilic design and gives some very simple and cost-effective tips to help you thrive in your home working setting – it’s not just about plants (although, of course, they are very important), it is about all of your senses.

Where we work now

Here in the UK, it is the last day of National Plants at Work Week, organized by the interior landscaping trade association, Plants at Work. Usually, this is a celebration of the benefits of greenery in the office.

This year, however, our workplaces are very different, and may continue to be for a while yet, and Plants at Work have been discussing the ways by which we can all use plants wherever we work – the home office, kitchen table, spare room or even in the garden.

Where we work is not just a room, with a desk and computer. For many, the place where we really work often isn’t physical at all, but inside our heads. The office and the laptop are just tools to communicate the outputs of work. For many, work can’t be measured by keystrokes or attentiveness to a camera or attendance at virtual meetings. At best, that is just a measure of activity.

Certainly, for some jobs, activity measures are the only practical proxy of work outputs, but those for whom the office is primarily the place to transfer ideas to a document or communicate them to a colleague, then the place where those ideas are formed is the real workplace. That means being in environments that forge creativity.

That could be a warm bath, or a walk in the woods. It could be the laptop on the dining table, but it may also be somewhere else entirely. Inspiration can happen anywhere and at any time – not just between 9 and 5 in an office block.

As good a place to be creative as anywhere. Photo by Tanner Vote on Pexels.com

For many years, those that have worked from home as a matter of course were often viewed with suspicion by employers and colleagues alike. Were they really working, or were they slacking off? (Were those employers incapable of actually measuring outputs?)

Some employers did insist on monitoring remote staff using technology, but now that even those managers are forced to working at home, maybe there is a little more understanding that people can be trusted to do good work without the need for a desk in the corporate office.

Evolution

It may be that as we contemplate the future of work, there will be a more rapid evolution of the home working environment. Already, employers, faced with a future when more and more people will be working away from the corporate office for extended periods, are examining their responsibilities for creating safe and healthy working environments.

This certainly includes getting technology right, and ergonomics. Good chairs and lighting are going to be vital, along with legal obligations such as complying with display screen regulations.

As well as the bare minimum, enlightened employers might be considering providing some of the things that make office life more bearable – perhaps some professionally prepared plant displays (e.g. this service from a London firm, Indoor Garden Design through their new venture https://www.intrayplants.com/ ).

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Some are even offering the delivery of home office buildings, although that raises many questions.

I wonder about how insecure a company must feel that it needs to remind its employees who they work for with a branded pod placed, presumably rent-free, in the back garden with the desk facing away from the window – recreating the environment of the office battery cage. If company culture has to be reinforced by having a massive logo, rather than by decent management, then I would be very worried. And what might be the consequence of hanging a poster over the logo?

The pod itself looks really well designed – good acoustics, modern lighting and all pre-cabled, but is this where you will be expected to be creative and imaginative? Maybe a few pot plants would help.

The nature of work is changing, and it is changing in ways not even imagined at the beginning of the year. Many office workers have had nightmares of trying to juggle space, homes schooling and caring along with work, but many have also experienced the benefits of being able to manage their work with more freedom, and have found themselves more productive, more creative and more engaged.

By being forced to loosen the leash on staff, employers should be seeing the benefits of empowerment and trust. The benefits to employers and employees of being liberated from the constraints of the workplace battery farm need to be preserved.

Post pandemic plantscaping

The workplace is no-longer the traditional office for many.  Many organizations are challenged by the need to embrace new ways of physically working: planning space, maintaining higher standards of hygiene, enabling teams to work effectively together and recognizing that home working is going to be needed (and even wanted) for the foreseeable future.  All of those challenges are overlaid with the absolute need to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of staff.

As we move through summer, many offices and other workplaces are re-opening and businesses are trying to imagine how on Earth they are going to be able to ensure effective working.  This uncertainty and the requirements for correct physical distancing and enhanced hygiene standards is going to place a strain on employers and employees alike. 

We’re beginning to get some hints about the way things might look in the period immediately after lockdown ends. One thing is for sure, the world of work (especially the office) is going to have to adapt very quickly. Even when buildings reopen, it seems likely that some degree of physical distancing and enhanced hygiene will be necessary.

After the second world war, a great leader found himself ruthlessly put out of power.  Churchill led the country through a crisis and might have expected a reward in the subsequent general election.  However, to his surprise, and that of the press and the establishment, he fell victim to the closest thing the UK ever had to a revolution.

Comparing the horrors of global warfare to the enforced changes to office life is a bit extreme, although it is worth drawing a few parallels.

Wartime highlighted the faultlines in society.  The old order had to be abandoned in order to fight the war and the idea that society would willingly return to the established ways of doing things was rejected.  Now, organizations are going to have to face up to the facts that the established ways of managing people and workspaces are also going to have to change.

We may even have to reconsider what we mean by workspaces.  

It is going to be a long time before this is normal again, if ever
Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

Do we mean just the one (or more) physical spaces to carry out work – the realm of the designer – or does it include the headspace too?

Opportunities

Workplace managers are going to have to consider whole new interactions of disciplines in the very near future: space, furniture, technology, connectivity, restoration and recuperation, and new approaches to managing people.  All will need repackaging to create work environments that people want to use, and we must learn from our experiences over the last few months to create those new working environments.

What does that mean for the commercial interior and exterior plantscaping industry?

There are certainly going to be challenges, but also opportunities for those firms imaginative and agile enough to change.

Let’s first look at some of the challenges. These include adapting to new ways of working, such as maintaining physical distancing in clients’ offices whilst carrying out plant care, ensuring that plant displays are kept clean and disinfected and adapting to new office layouts that might be less accommodating for plants if desks and workstations have to be spread out.

One thing seems certain: high density offices are going to have to change. If physical distancing is going to be successful, then either desks are going to have to be spread out, or there are going to have to be screens between workstations, or fewer people are going to be allowed in the office at any one time. Pedestrian routes will also have to be altered. It will be no good if desks are isolated only for colleagues to have to squeeze behind the back of your chair or walk within a few inches of you as they go and get their coffee.

Graphic by Plants@Work – the UK trade association for interior landscapers

Already, interior designers and architects are producing their visions of the new normal office. Many solutions seem to revolve around an adaptation of conventional open plan spaces with designated empty desks and plastic screens to facilitate physical isolation. Some designers are a little more imaginative than others and have started investigating how people can be safely separated with items such as plant displays and green dividers comprising of moss, live plants or even replica foliage. These are, on the face of it, attractive options.

The most imaginative of all are re-thinking the way that offices are going to work. After months of homeworking, most people have found that they can do their work pretty well from home, or at least can manage without missing the office too much. Work habits have changed and people are finding ways to adapt to remote working. The traditional corporate office environment has been shown, by and large, to be unnecessary.

Those organizations with the imagination to grasp the opportunity to create better office environments, rather than rush to adapting what already exists, may look to the types of environment typified by co-working spaces and serviced offices. Such places often resemble hotel lobbies and coffee shops, but also with a wide variety of working spaces to accommodate any type of activity. Such places are designed to get specific types of work done, rather than be a place to go to work.

The new office might be fitted out with better furniture, art and plants. They won’t be designed for dense occupation, but will enable physical distancing, and they will be adaptable to a time when such extreme distancing is no-longer needed.

In part two of this article, I’m going to look at some practical considerations for plantscapers. But if you can’t wait, do get in touch and we can talk about some ideas.