Office landlords and tenants have tried what seems like everything to bring workers back to the office, from adding wellness rooms to new office layout concepts to offering Pickleball courts as a building amenity. But a seemingly simple addition is one that has struck a chord with a lot of workers: bringing the outside in. Taking elements of nature and putting them in offices is part of the overall focus on health that has taken hold in the sector. Numerous recent studies have shown that workers want more wellness-focused design in their workplaces and that buildings with higher air quality and better lighting can potentially increase productivity. The latest major occupier to focus on office wellness through nature-inspired design is the biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which recently relocated its offices in Finland to a brand new property where health and wellness is the main event.
AstraZeneca’s corporate headquarters are located in Cambridge, United Kingdom, but it has more than 90 other office locations in 60 countries around the world. The company’s new office in Finland is located in Espoo, the country’s second-largest city. Situated within the business and innovation hub of Espoo’s Keilaniemi region, AstraZeneca’s office supports about 100 employees and was designed in partnership with the Finnish company Naava, which makes green living walls. One of AstraZeneca’s major aims with the relocation and design was to bring workers back to the office as part of its ongoing hybrid work model, according to the company. “The interior design and even the location itself were chosen after listening carefully to people’s preferences,” said Jaakko Viitala, Country Director for Finland at AstraZeneca.
The office’s layout was designed to give workers a high level of comfort while also providing space for both collaborative and individual work, something the company’s employees requested in order to accommodate their different ways of working. Nature inspired the interiors of the office, which features 11 green walls in the larger communal areas of the space as well as meeting rooms. The walls’ living plants grow without using soil and are powered by smart sensors and AI, which automatically directs functions for plant life, like periodic irrigation. The plants help purify the air by removing harmful chemicals and, through the use of fans on the back of the walls, return naturalized air back to the indoor space. The result is an air quality “equivalent to that of the Nordic forest,” according to the company, along with giving office workers a calming, stress-reducing visual environment. The walls also function as whiteboards and as space dividers between work zones.
Working with Naava, the company sought to weave biophilic design, the concept of bringing elements of the outside indoors throughout every area of the office. The tech company created several design iterations before landing on its final design layout, one that was the most human-friendly environment possible, according to the firm. Naava’s products, which have been installed in many offices in the U.S. as well, also have the flexibility to be easily moved in order to reconfigure a space. The walls are one of many products on the market today that align with the overall shift toward creating workplaces that offer more amenities and, perhaps most importantly, a better experience than working at home. “The office is not that traditional office anymore where we can find rows of desks and probably a coffee maker somewhere,” said Naava’s Head of Project Business & Design, Eeva Niemela. “Office is a destination where you have a possibility to spend invaluable face-to-face time with your colleagues and get inspired and even refreshed,” Niemela said. Based on feedback from clients, workstations located near the green walls have proven to be much more popular than those without them, and some office tenants have reported feeling more refreshed and energized when they leave the office than when they arrived.
AstraZeneca’s design of its Finnish office is in line with its recent office redesigns in other locations. Last year, the company moved into its new UK headquarters in the King’s Cross neighborhood of London. When the office was still in the planning stages, after several meetings with the designer of the space, Ekho Studio, AstraZeneca produced a top ten list of must-haves. Number one on the list: health and wellbeing. Biophilic elements like abundant plant life, natural light, and wood finishes were included in the final design. The design concept was also a big part of AstraZeneca’s new Milan, Italy, headquarters that opened in early 2022, an office that is filled with natural light, plant life, and preserved wood elements from the existing building’s former use as an exhibition hall.
The pharmaceutical company’s efforts to focus on employee health, and biophilia in particular, as a way to encourage a stronger return-to-office in their hybrid workplace is a strategy a lot of big companies have been taking lately. Biophilia has quickly become part of the lexicon of the office sector over the last couple of years. LinkedIn redesigned its headquarters office in New York City to accommodate hybrid work, and biophilic elements were included in the design to help workers focus, reflect, and get “deep work” done. In Houston, where global development firm Hines is based, the company’s recently-opened new headquarters was built to better support hybrid work and also included biophilic elements by designing the space in a way to allow more natural light in, something employees had been requesting. At Adobe’s newest office tower at its San Jose, California, headquarters campus, workers are provided wellness-focused offerings like abundant natural light and views and a deep focus library where cell phones are banned.
For a company like AstraZeneca, which is known for making life-saving drugs, it makes sense that the place in which many of its employees work should have a focus on health and wellbeing. The company, along with many other large occupiers around the world, is tapping into concepts like biophilia that are clearly resonating with workers. We can expect to continue to see wellness be a key part of companies’ strategies for existing and future offices, especially as office landlords and tenants look to push the needle more on the return-to-office front. AstraZeneca has always had a flexible work environment, with some teams continuing to work remotely and others, like those in R&D, in roles that require them to be in the workplace. Creating offices built to support hybrid work and enhance the well-being of employees with a health-focused environment seems to be a smart balance for the healthcare company.