Article first appeared in Australian Financial Review
Building designers are increasingly incorporating natural elements into indoor environments based on growing evidence associated with biophilia, the principle that connection to nature is essential to human wellbeing.
Now world-first research has revealed natural-looking wooden surfaces in the workplace are strongly associated with increased employee wellbeing and satisfaction, affording potential significant improvements to their productivity.
The new study of 1000 Australian indoor workers was conducted by strategic market research agency Pollinate for Forest and Wood Products Australia (FWPA), and further analysed by Associate Professor Jacki Schirmer of the University of Canberra.
The study showed natural-looking, sustainably sourced wood has a key role in the design of green buildings and cities. “Now there is evidence for the first time that there are real and measurable benefits associated with including natural-looking wood in the workplace,” she said.
“The research was robust, and represents ground-breaking evidence that wood in the workplace is associated with better work satisfaction and wellbeing. That’s very important because we know from other research that better workplace satisfaction and wellbeing leads to better productivity in the form of reduced absenteeism, employees being more willing to invest in their work, and less office conflict.”
Employees in the study with natural wooden surfaces on average also reported higher personal productivity, mood, concentration, clarity, confidence and optimism – and were more likely to find their workplaces relaxing, calming, natural-feeling, inviting and energising.
The study – Workplaces: Wellness + Wood = Productivity – highlighted that, on average, almost half of employees who work indoors spend less than an hour outdoors on work days. This is of concern given the long-established connection between wellbeing and spending time in nature, especially amid the increasing urbanisation of populations.
Natural elements that can be brought indoors include materials like stone and wood, water features, plants, natural light and imagery depicting the natural world. The principle brings into focus our innate attraction to nature and implies we all have an inherent connection to the natural world through centuries of living in agricultural settings.
By proving the benefits associated with wood, designers who want to bring natural elements into workplaces now have an extra tool in their armoury. Ultimately, as the research report concludes, better workplace satisfaction and wellbeing leads to better productivity.