Your office is killing you

Your office is killing you

Pssst: your office is slowly killing you, and numerous researchers seem to take delight in pointing out how.

your office is killing youWe’ve heard that sitting down for more than six hours a day shaves a few years off your life, even if you spend your after-work hours pounding the pavement or chasing toddlers.

While you’re doing all that lethal sitting, the carpet, the photocopier, paint on the walls and cheap MDF furniture leach toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air.

What’s more, if your building is poorly ventilated and you’ve got lots of inconsiderate colleagues who insist on breathing, carbon dioxide levels increase, screwing up your ability to make decisions.

And don’t gaze out the window – being in an urban environment saps your brain power, found a bunch of Canadian psychologists, because there are too many things to focus on. Even glancing at a picture of a cityscape has
detrimental mental effects. Turns out that the solution to all this is to make inside more like ... well, outside. And luckily you don’t have to get all Friedensreich Hundertwasser about it. If you want to grow tree tenants out of your office windows don’t let me stop you, but you don’t even need a real tree.

More Canadian researchers found people did better at cognitive tests after a stroll through the park; but they also did better after looking at a picture of one. Suddenly the popularity of blogs such as Free Cabin Porn makes sense! Other studies have shown that hospital patients recover more quickly if they have a view of trees, and need less painkillers if they’re in a sunny room.

In spaces that offer some connection with nature, employees’ productivity increases, retail sales are higher and students learn better.

There’s a name for this whole thing: biophilia. (That’s Greek for ‘tree hugger’ or thereabouts). Harvard entomologist Edward Wilson came up with the theory of biophilia in 1985. He reckoned humans are hardwired by
evolution to seek connection with nature and to draw wellbeing from it. We’re not meant to live in boxes, but in habitats, and we thrive in environments which are full of other life forms. Woo-woo!? Not so. Yale researchers are looking at how they can put a dollar value on including nature-inspired design in new building developments.

Austrian-turned-Kiwi artist Hundertwasser was preaching this back in 1953 in a manifesto titled The Straight Line Leads to the Downfall of Humanity. Half a century before Canadian researchers came into the picture, Hundertwasser reckoned we’d all feel so much more at ease if our buildings were more like outside, down to having rolling floors.

Now we know that copying nature (fancy term: biomimicry) doesn’t just make people happier, it also makes buildings more sustainable. Take the example of the Zimbabwe mall with an unusual air conditioning design based on termite mounds. It’s so efficient that it uses 10 percent of the power of the building next door.

On a smaller scale, things such as biowalls aren’t just interior design fads. Done right, a wall of plants soaks up carbon dioxide and filters VOCs, plus it acts as insulation, helping keep you cool in summer.

Because natural scenes don’t require the same amount of brain effort to look at as man-made structures (this is known as attention restoration theory), glancing up a green space helps save your brain juice for what really matters.

Too much work? Hipster interiors blog Apartment Therapy has instructions for mounting a wall-sized poster of mountains behind a tiny home office desk. Rest your eyes on the Matterhorn and reap the benefits! Just don’t do it sitting down.

Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).