Outdoor living in the office: It’s possible with the right design

Feb. 8, 2018

This piece is presented by Interstate Office Products.

It’s a below-average January day in Sioux Falls, but you’d never know there were single-digit temperatures outside while sitting on the fifth floor of Raven Industries looking toward the Big Sioux River.

In a space dubbed the winter garden, plants bloom like it’s spring. Light pours in through windows that nearly stretch floor to ceiling.

Before a renovation a few years ago, “this part wasn’t even finished,” said Hugh Dodson, Raven’s corporate facilities manager. “It wasn’t even heated. There were no windows.”

The building originally was a biscuit company. Raven used it for manufacturing before transitioning it to a corporate headquarters.

“It was built during an era when you went to work to work,” said Margaret Carmody, director of communications.

“I think there’s been a shift over time, and we see it as part of our duty to provide employees with a space that’s enjoyable and lends itself to creativity and innovation. We want this to be a place where they want to come work every day.”

Raven strives to be an industry leader through innovation, developing products that advance technology in agriculture, engineered films and high-altitude balloons.

That same cutting-edge approach can be seen in its office renovation, which uses techniques that are becoming trends today.

One is biophilia – the theory that humans have an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. After being adopted first by health care organizations, other businesses are integrating biophilia in their office space.

“You can see this theory reflected all through Raven,” said Kim Ducommun, an account manager and interior designer at Interstate Office Products who worked on the project.

“There’s a lot of glass used, which helps bring light in. You bring plants in, so you feel warm. It feels like you’re outside, yet you’re inside.”

Raven also embraced mobility, which allows employees to take advantage of the winter gardens created on the fourth and fifth floors, as well as a lower-level common space that looks out to the river.

“People are becoming more mobile, and laptops are more common, and Raven has definitely welcomed that,” Ducommun said. “People are able to go outside and still work or go in an area like the winter garden where they can work in a more comfortable setting.”

The winter gardens are equipped with a variety of work settings provided by Interstate Office Products, from high tables for group meetings to individual seats with surfaces for working to a walking station where employees can fit in a mini-workout as they work.

“On cold winter days, there’s no way to meet outside, but in the winter garden you get a sense of warmth and light,” Carmody said. “There’s no spot within this building where you don’t know what’s going on outside, and I don’t know of many office buildings where you can say that.”

In nicer weather, a rooftop gathering space and a patio draw a lot of use. Employees use them for grilling get-togethers or as outdoor work areas.

“As a company, we believe you don’t just have to sit in front of a computer screen to have a functional meeting. Good ideas and collaboration occur when you get up and move and meet in different settings and get fresh air,” Carmody said.

“And facilities really do matter in attracting team members and also customers. It’s great when we bring in a customer like John Deere or Google and show them what we have to offer in Sioux Falls.”

The additional light throughout the building and emphasis on the outdoors has improved employees’ energy and sense of overall well-being, she added.

“Creating a space that feels very open and inviting makes work enjoyable,” she said.

Science supports that. Interstate Office Products is a premier partner of industry leader Steelcase, which says research has shown incorporating biological elements such as plants helps people think and feel better.

Land Lendlease, an international property and infrastructure group headquartered in London, installed more than 4,000 plants, or about eight plants for each person. The plants help decrease toxins, balance humidity and improve employee well-being.

One study of workers in Europe – the Human Spaces Global Report by Interface — reports levels of well-being and productivity increase by 13 percent in environments containing natural elements.

In the U.S., people spend 90 percent of their time indoors.

“The elements of biophilic design have been found to be building blocks of emotional, cognitive and physical well-being, including productivity, happiness, stress reduction, learning and healing,” according to Steelcase.

“The average antiseptic, gray office can literally signal to the deepest part of the brain that it’s a barren place that won’t sustain life, which is why people generally can’t wait to get away from them.”

A surprising number of workers are still deprived of simple access to nature: According to the Human Spaces Global Report, 42 percent of office workers have no access to natural light, 55 percent have no greenery and 7 percent lack a window within their environment.

“There are so many ways to improve this,” Ducommun said. “In addition to emphasizing windows and plant life, biophilia also can mean incorporating prints and materials on walls, floor and furniture that help create that sense of bringing the outdoors inside.”

“I think businesses are starting to embrace it more. We’ve seen them putting in more glass and integrating this concept as they build or remodel. They’re providing more space where people can see and interact with the outdoors and enjoy their space instead of installing a sea of workstations. We think that’s only going to continue.”

To learn more about how Interstate Office Products can help you bring the outdoors in to your office space, contact IOP at 605-339-0300 or visit i-o-p.com.

Outdoor living in the office: It’s possible with the right design

Businesses increasingly are looking for ways to bring the outdoors in as a way to improve the employee experience.

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