The contemporary workplace faces a surprising paradox: designed to foster productivity, it often tends to do the opposite. Stress, disengagement and absenteeism are a growing concern, particularly as they negatively impact the well-being of the occupants. And while our workplaces become more automated and technologically advanced, the emerging solution to this problem seems more elemental, primordial even: proximity to nature.

WoodSolutions' in-depth study reveals compelling evidence in this area. Biophilic workspaces incorporating wooden elements demonstrate a measurable positive impact on stress levels, mood, and cognitive function – improving both employee well-being and business outcomes.

Could a simple design change unlock a healthier, more productive workplaces that actively boosts employee creativity and problem-solving skills?

The indoor shift: Why workplace design matters

Published in 2018, WoodSolutions’ "Workplaces: Wellness + Wood = Productivity" report was the first large-scale study of this type, and it made one thing abundantly clear: it is imperative for Australian workplaces to employ principles of biophilic design to establish a stronger connection with the outdoors. Six years on, this key finding is increasingly relevant.

Architects and designers have understood and embraced the transformative benefits of biophilic design for years now, but its applicability in workplace design is more essential than ever before – the study reveals that two thirds of Australian indoor workers spend most of their workday in an office environment and half of them spend only an hour or less outdoors each day.

With that in mind, the report delves into the compelling evidence on why biophilic design holds a distinct power in creating healthy and productive work environments. In doing so, it considers wood in particular – not only because of its proven track record of improving these crucial outcomes, but also because, as The Ultimate Renewable resource, it should be front of mind for any professional.

The science of wood and wellness

It's widely recognised that workspaces incorporating natural elements, like strategically placed planters or access to natural light – provide a much-needed sense of connection to the outdoors. However, wood appears to uniquely enhance this link.

The "Workplaces: Wellness + Wood = Productivity" report stipulates that the presence of wood can lead to greater employee satisfaction, improve well-being and can even positively impact employee absenteeism. Wood has also been proven to provide a cognitive boost – it’s linked to better concentration, mood, and productivity – and this research indicates that it might even positively influence creativity and problem-solving. The report also cites studies showing that incorporating timber in workplace fit-out can reduce the sympathetic nervous system activation. Essentially, this means that being in the presence of wood might actually lower our stress levels.

In essence, there is ample correlation between integrating wood in a workplace design and a happier, more productive, more creative and healthier workforce who is also more inclined to come into the office – and these findings go beyond the 2018 report. Ongoing research continues to reinforce the idea that thoughtfully designed spaces featuring natural elements can actively support our physical and mental health.

So, what does this mean for architects, designers and specifiers? It reinforces the notion that wood is an incredibly powerful and transformative design tool, and that there are multiple ways in which it can be integrated into any workspace to improve outcomes for individuals and employers.

Wood as a design tool: From finishes to structure

In addition to other biophilic considerations – maximising natural light, incorporating greenery and outdoor spaces – integrating wooden fittings (like furniture or flooring) is an easy way to seamlessly add this natural material into any space. In addition, because of its acoustic-enhancing properties, wooden wall or ceiling panels can provide biophilic benefits, improve reverberation and reduce noise distractions all at the same time, which makes them an ideal choice for offices and commercial workplaces.

However, as a particularly sustainable material, wood is also an incredible choice for the structural elements of a space. Apart from its undeniable visual and sensory presence, structural timber offers a way to address the growing focus on embodied carbon – the next sustainability frontier in the global architecture and design industry. The shift towards structural timber, and the rise of mass timber for that matter, highlight the industry’s focus on embracing the many benefits of wood. Some of the most striking examples of local projects, like Brisbane’s iconic office building, 25 King – completed the same year the report was released, in fact – underscore this wonderful meeting point between the beauty of biophilia and spotlight on sustainability.

In an era where employee well-being is paramount and sustainable construction is the new normal, wood holds a unique power in creating better, healthier and more enduring workplaces. By strategically integrating timber – from finishes to structural elements – architects and designers can create workspaces that actively nurture those within them – a win-win for individuals and businesses fostering a more engaged, productive, and healthy workforce.

Founded in 2010, WoodSolutions is a non-profit initiative providing independent technical information, education and resources on timber and wood products. And, as this insightful report clearly demonstrates, they’re a fitting partner for any architect, design or specifier looking to embrace biophilic design and the potential of wood to shape workplaces that nurture the wellbeing of the individuals, the organisational success – and the environmental outcomes for the society at large.