Bringing nature indoors

Smarter solutions

Putting nature and the outdoors into the office equation - If a vibrant painted feature wall and a few pot plants is about as wild as you get with your office décor, and you’re struggling with the concept of flexible and collaborative work spaces, then you might get some inspiration from trendsetters like Microsoft, Apple and Google.

At its Redmond, Seattle campus, Microsoft has created “outdoor districts” to connect its buildings with three treehouses for employees to work in, taking the spotlight.

One sits in a Pacific Northwest Douglas fir, another is 4 metres above the ground and has charred-wood walls and a lofty ceiling with a skylight and the third is a sheltered treehouse lounge space.

The treehouses include meeting rooms for employees to use, and other spaces suitable for working on projects. They have weatherproof benches, hidden electricity sockets, a fireplace and apparently the buildings will last at least 20 years. They’re even designed to expand as the trees grow.

Staff were asked about how they would like to work and a common theme was that, given the opportunity, they’d like to work outside more. The treehouses aim to meet that desire.

Around 1,500km south of the Microsoft treehouses, is Apple Park, the corporate headquarters of Apple Inc., in Cupertino, California.

Here you’ll find Apple’s US$5billlion "spaceship" campus, a giant, doughnut-shaped building wrapped in glass and with glass interior features complemented by more than 9,000 trees and walking tracks.

It hasn’t been smooth sailing for the office building, though, with a number of Apple employees walking or running into the ultra-transparent glass doors and windows – with enough force to warrant emergency medical treatment during just the first month of occupation.

Maybe they were too busy looking at their iPhones but it seems it’s a case of an Apple a day not keeping the doctor away…

As if treehouses in Washington and spaceships in California are not enough to dazzle the office sector, along comes Amazon.com and their staffers’ “rain forest” or giant glass-and-metal domes filled with more than 400 species of tropical and rare plants plus a waterfall, smack in the middle of downtown Seattle.

Called The Spheres – the buildings make a real design statement and have fast become a new Seattle landmark. Amazon’s intention, however, is to help it attract, retain and enhance the productivity and well-being of its escalating workforce.

This alternative workspace is aimed at boosting collaboration and innovation. There are no silo offices, desks or conference rooms and the structure reflects what Amazon identified was missing from the modern office environment – a link to nature.

Studies have shown that spending time in so-called "biophilic" or natural environments helps to offset many of the negative effects of the fast-paced world we live and work in.

It has been shown that spending time among nature can dramatically improve attention span, increase positive thoughts, reduce physical signs of stress, bolster creativity and improve productivity.

Time to get some greenery into your office space, perhaps?


Read more market insights from Workplace

Subscribe to receive the latest commercial news and insights from Bayleys Workplace