The Science of Why Google’s New New York City Office Will Host Birds and Bees (and Why That Matters for Your Workspace Too)



When you think about the coolest offices around you probably think about impressive architecture, sweet perks like gyms and childcare centers, or even the freedom not to come into the office at all. But when some of the biggest and most successful companies are opening new offices lately the trendiest feature to splash out on has nothing to do with any of those things. Instead, they’re focusing on plants and bugs. 

Take Amazon as an example. When the e-commerce behemoth opened a new Seattle headquarters a few years back, what design feature did it trumpet loudest to the media? A dome filled with no less than 40,000 plants (as well as a few spaces to work). 

Now Google is getting in on the act too. Its new giant New York campus, housed in a former freight facility known as St. John’s Terminal and designed by architect Rick Cook, will be “biophilic.” That means employees will share their workspace with acres of gardens, as well as the birds, bees, and caterpillars they’ve been specially designed to attract. 

How birds and bees make for better workers

This style of design sounds like it might be pretty and good for the city and the planet. But that hardly seems like enough of a reason for giant corporations to shell out billions on biophilic designs (the price tag for Google’s new NYC campus is $2.1 billion). Instead, both companies are motivated by economics as much as beauty or altruism. 

Not only do cool-looking biophilic offices help companies recruit talent in an incredibly tight labor market, but they also nudge that talent to perform better at work once they’re hired. 

“We’re looking to create workplaces that reduce stress, improve cognitive function, enhance creativity — all of these make our employees healthier, happier, and more engaged in their work,” Michele Neptune, a member of Google’s sustainability team told the Financial Times. “It’s something Google believes in… and it’s something we invest in.”

Google is renowned for being an evidence-driven company, and there’s no shortage of evidence to back up the company’s faith that more nature at work makes employees happier and more productive. Study after study shows that spending time in natural spaces increases your attention span and creativity, boosts your mood, and reduces stress. 

What that means for you

Of course, the average entrepreneur doesn’t have a spare couple of billion to spend on aviaries and horticulturists. But the good news about biophilic design is that it seems to have benefits at just about any scale. Even just staring at a neighboring green roof for less than a minute has been shown to boost productivity. Doctors claim house plants can help reduce anxiety. Just two hours total a week spent in nature produces measurable benefits to mental and physical health.

That means tiny changes to your workspace (wherever it is) to make it even moderately more biophilic will likely improve your mood and performance. Maybe switch your setup so you get more natural light. Try adding more natural materials like unpainted wood. Or get yourself a desk plant or even a furry work companion. If you’re remote, how about working from the park or beach for a day? 

The point is that the latest office design trend (unlike some past ones) is actually rooted in science and timeless truths about human nature. We do better work when we’re closer to nature. Use that to your advantage. 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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