By Jenica Foster

It’s been a tiring day. Your shoulders feel like they’re up to your ears from stress. The constant pounding in your mind signals a headache that’s going to need a couple Advil to cure. Alas, you’re finally home and can melt your worries away into the cradle of the couch.

We’ve all had these days. Kaitlyn Gillis, wellbeing and sustainability specialist at Stantec, says often your environment can cause additional stress. Gillis has a Master of Science in Environmental Psychology and Architecture, a Bachelor of Building Engineering, and is also a LEED AP, WELL AP, and a Fitwel Ambassador.

“When you are in an office environment and it’s stressing you out, if you take the time to notice it, when you leave that environment you can actually feel your body come down,” Gillis says.

Noise, light pollution, air quality, and thermal discomfort can all cause added stress. To reduce these effects, strategies such as noise cancelling headphones, blankets, and advocating for scent-free environments can be done on a personal level. However, in an open concept office environment, individual control is limited.

“I would advocate for more flexible work environments. There would be variability in comfort in a space. Certain spaces are a little bit warmer and cooler, but people have the opportunity to move to those spots,” Gillis says.

A living wall, pictured above, is one example of incorporating biophilic design. The Mosaic Centre for Conscious Community and Commerce in Edmonton has been featured by the International Living Future Institute as a case study on creating community through biophilic design.

Out with the standard one size fits all working environment. One key to creating an engaged workforce, Gillis says, is creating spaces people actually want to spend time in.

There are strategies to reduce environmental stress, and then there’s promoting restoration. “It’s kind of like the way you feel after yoga, or when you think about someone that you love, and you feel really good,” Gillis says.

One way to promote restoration is to incorporate natural elements through biophilic design into work spaces. Plants, images of nature, wood finishes, and natural colours, sounds, and smells are all ways to destress.

Gillis says, “Images of nature have been found in the research to be more restorative than a view outside that either doesn’t have a lot of nature or it’s winter and you have deciduous tress.”

The concept of biophilia is that humans have an innate love and connection with nature. So incorporating biophilic design naturally draws people. Think of a water feature or a green wall.

Gillis says spaces that are designed with nature in mind will naturally draw people and stimulate engagement. If you were given the opportunity to meet in a windowless boardroom or congregate in an atrium, the choice is obvious.

Dig up those Pinterest boards and start creating and advocating for flexible spaces inspired by nature. It’s one step closer to decoding the elusive key to engagement.

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