Emerging Trends – Biophilia & Performance

I’m off to Delhi to speak on psychoacoustics. It appears to be a subject of wide interest and appeal – it was well-received at EIAS and more recently Workplace Trends. Many of you will know that I co-founded the Workplace Trends series of conferences some 14 years ago with my wife, and Events Manager extraordinaire, Maggie Procopi.

Back then Workplace Trends was a small forum providing a platform for me and my peers to share subjects of interest to us and relevant to our day jobs. It has evolved to become the primary workplace conference for disseminating emerging trends that have an impact on office design and organisational management. The format allows the select group of speakers to present their subject matter in detail in a professional but non-commercial environment. Many delegates return year after year and the conference has become a networking hub for the increasing members of the workplace community. This year’s theme was the increasingly topical Environments for Wellness and Health.
As an organiser, not only do I have the opportunity to speak or chair but, I get to choose the speakers. I was pleased that both John Alker, of the World Green Building Council (WGBC), and Peter Cheese, of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), agreed to speak at our conference. Both their organisations are instrumental in improving our understanding of and use of the workplace. The WGBC are promoting the link between good office design and health, wellbeing and productivity. I always joke that “for where two or three gather in the name of workplace consulting, they shall discuss productivity”. It’s a long-standing subject matter, often referred to as the HolyGrail, that will go on and on. Furthermore, for some time the workplace strategy and design community has been fostering a joined-up approach to workplace between CRE/FM, IT and HR. So it was encouraging that this approach was acknowledged by Peter, “le grande fromage” of the HR community.

All of our presenters were on top form. The Workstock PechaKucha session, hosted by Neil Usher, once again stimulated our thoughts on workplace in a unique and challenging format. We like honest non-commercial case studies at Workplace Trends. The case studies from Gensler with BUPA and AECOM with National Grid both had depth and offered new insights. I particularly liked that National Grid reported an 8% improvement in cognitive performance, equivalent to a potential £20M gain in productivity, as a result of their new workplace strategy and design. We also received an open and honest behind-the-scenes view of Google’s workplaces by Frans van Eersel.
However, the highlight of the day for me was undoubtedly Bill Browning’s presentation on Biophilic Design. I have had an interest for some time in biophilia, our affinity to nature, and have previously written and presentedon the subject. Bill is a bit of a hero of mine who I have been following and referring to for some time so I was particularly pleased he agreed to fly over and present his latest research and guidance at our conference. Bill presented case after case where biophilic design (greenery, daylight, natural ventilation, views etc) had resulted in a positive quantified benefit in physiological and/or emotional response and performance. For example, workers in a Sacramento call centre processed calls 12% faster when they had views out and good daylight, apparently equivalent to a Return on Investment of 299%. The presentation concluded by running through 14 design principles that cater for biophilic needs. I recommend reading Bill’s report on the Economics of Biophilia alongside his new report on Patterns of Biophilic Design.
That’s it for now. I’ve had my jabs, got my tickets and visa, so Delhi here I come.

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