HR Strategy

What’s biophilia, and what role should it play in your HR strategy?

Incorporating nature into office design can help increase productivity and creativity, research finds.
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· 4 min read

There’s something about nature and fresh air that makes people feel happier and more relaxed…until a spider crawls up their leg. Then it’s game over and back to the great indoors.

Regardless of the occasional rogue arachnid, people generally like having a connection to nature, and some experts believe that experience should be brought into the office.

Get down with biophilia. If you’re not familiar, the term biophilia was coined in the 1960s and describes the desire to be close to nature, according to Merriam-Webster.

Being surrounded by nature has a positive correlation with health, cognitive performance, and attention, according to a paper published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Greenery in the office can lower employees’ stress levels and improve their perception of their work environment. Even a window view of nature can positively impact employee well-being.

Providing employees with opportunities to experience nature can also help improve their performance and creativity, according to Natalie Engels, global practice area community co-leader and design director at Gensler.

So, it’s no wonder that biophilic dimensions are becoming more popular in workplace design, according to Engels. “A visual connection to nature that could be a big window looking out into nature, or it could be physical plants within the workplace,” she explained. “We’re spending so much of our time indoors, so it’s a way to help break up the monotony of the workplace.”

HR’s green thumb. Intuit’s new Mountainview, California offices, which opened in January, feature biophilic elements, Michael Merola, VP of places at Intuit, recently told HR Brew. He said that the company spent a lot of time developing the street-level landscaping and building terraces to create an inviting office. “I have found myself using those spaces and I have looked out and seen people out there [on the terraces] on phone calls,” he said.

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The company’s campus incorporates plants native to the area, outdoor water features, and a green wall that hosts more than 4,000 living plants. The company also weaves greenery throughout the meeting spaces, staircases, and curated outdoor spaces that make up its 178,600 sq ft campus.

A group of employees tends to a large wall filled with greenery that says Intuit


As HR leaders think about the employee experience and well-being, Engels and Merola believe they should consider nature and how incorporating it into offices can make work a place employees are drawn to. “At the end of the day, they’re really about humans,” Engels said. “And how their people are growing. How they’re thriving at work. It is a correlation between the ask and what their mission is.”

Workers sit at a long wood table in a large conference-style room, with large plants surrounding the room


Merola agrees, noting that it should be part of the office strategy. “There’s a substantial amount of investment that companies make in their physical spaces,” he said. “Why not invest in the materials that you think will bring people the best possible experience?”

Intuit’s not alone in its embrace of biophilic design. Amazon, Meta, and Microsoft have all built areas of natural refuge in their offices in the last decade. Experts say that biophilic design goes beyond plant life and encourage leaders to look for ways to incorporate nature into their offices. “It’s natural light, it’s a pattern of nature, it’s wooden tables, it’s everything that you can find in nature……[It’s about] the basic necessities of humans as a biological creature,” Aki Soudunsaari, co-founder of Naava, a biophilic office design company, told HR Reporter.

Business professors also recommend taking small, unused spaces and adding landscaping or other natural elements. And it doesn’t have to require an Intuit-sized budget. “It really can be a small grouping of plants in various locations. But the important thing is to have a visual connection to it,” Engels said.

For your employees’ sake, though, don’t buy spider plants.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.