3 design features that make your office healthier

Poorly designed workspaces can raise stress levels, dampen moods, and slow down cognitive performance, Richard Schiffman writes for the New York Times.

A building's architectural design can even affect employee retention and financial success, finds a survey from the International Interior Design Association. To improve employee engagement, more architects are designing workspaces that emphasize natural elements, Schiffman writes.

Offices that bring the outside indoors can lead to fewer sick days and better work performance, says Richard Cook, the cofounder of architecture firm CookFox. According to Cook, spaces that prioritize our biological connection to nature create a healthier place to work and healthier employees.

In conversation with other green architects, Schiffman rounds up the key design features of a healthy office.

1: Greenery

Based on research from Edward Wilson, a biologist at Harvard University, Cook recommends adding outdoor features such as greenery into the office space. The presence of plants may affect our concentration and productivity at work, Schiffman writes.

Employees who worked in offices with leafy green plans were 15% more productive than those working in offices without plants, according to 2014 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Related: Convert student enthusiasm for going green into tangible results

2: Natural light

The lack of natural light can disrupt our circadian rhythm and lead to lethargy during the day, says Mariana Figueiro, a director of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Lighting Research Center.

Elementary school students who learned in a naturally lit classroom scored over 20% higher on tests than students learning in an artificially lit room, according to a study from the Heschong Mahone Group.

Many less satisfied employees complain that their offices are poorly or overly it, says Michael Kruklinski, an executive vice president at Siemens Real Estate. If windows aren't accessible, Figueiro recommends investing in a lighting system that mimics the natural cycle.

Yes, open office designs can work in higher ed

3: Proper ventilation

About 90% of "sick buildings" suffer from poor ventilation, says Joseph Allen, the founder of Harvard's Healthy Buildings program. Allen and his colleagues' research have found that proper ventilation can improve decision making and cognitive performance, Schiffman writes (Schiffman, New York Times, 1/17).

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