The most successful companies around the world incorporate indoor plants, vertical gardens, and courtyard landscaping into their office designs.
An engaging space promotes productivity, encourages innovation, and inspires engagement. Is there a way to specify what an optimal space looks like? Through Science of Space, we discover how to transform any workplace into a holistic experience through the science of intentional design.
Modern office spaces typically come with a few design elements: an open floor plan, motivational signage, an impressive array of snacks, and, in many cases, lush greenery. It’s a different world now from the gray walls and rows of cubicles of the past. Indoor plants and courtyard landscaping are among some of the items that successful companies are incorporating into their office setups.
Apple announced its plans for its Silicon Valley campus in 2010, which involved planting almost 9,000 trees. There are spheres filled with more than 40,000 plants from around the world inside Amazon’s Seattle headquarters. Interestingly, greenery is a recurring theme in all WeWork spaces.
Also, there is the follow-on effect: businesses are built around keeping office plants alive. Apps exist to help you find the most appropriate plants for your space. There are designers specifically dedicated to corporate plant walls.
However, office greenery is more than a trend or well-timed business opportunity, and several studies have demonstrated its value beyond aesthetics.
“If your office has a rooftop or balcony, hold community events there and add greenery such as palms, potted plants, and other botanicals to your indoor space,” says Michael Hershfield, WeWork’s vice president of product and commercialization. It will be beneficial for your employees and your company.
On this page, we examine how office greenery, or biophilic design, contributes to workplace productivity and happiness.
The Benefits of Indoor Plants in the Office
Researchers in Australia, the UK, and the Netherlands conducted one of the first studies to examine the long-term effects of office plants in 2014. An analysis of three office environments over several months found that plants significantly increased employee satisfaction, increased employees’ self-reported concentration levels, and improved employees’ perception of the quality of the environment.
Furthermore, researchers found that employees would be significantly more productive when surrounded by plants in the workplace.
Scientists found that simply adding plants to an otherwise spartan work space resulted in an increase in productivity of 15 percent, a result that aligns with findings from previous laboratory studies conducted, lead author Marlon Nieuwenhuis told Science Daily. Identifying this approach will lead to a more enjoyable, more comfortable, and more profitable approach to office-based working.
How do Office Plants Increase Happiness and Productivity?
We associate office greenery with workplace happiness and productivity due to our appreciation for nature, the power of attention stimuli, and-in the words of one thought leader-the “friendships” we form with living organisms.
Indoor plants are stress-relievers
In biophilic design, it is argued that natural environments provoke a different response in humans than urban environments. Feeling relaxed, calm, and just existing is the result of present with them. A natural element can also aid in mental recovery and stress relief when introduced to an otherwise sterile environment.
A review of literature shows that indoor plants can reduce stress and improve pain tolerance, according to Kaitlyn Gillis and Birgitta Gatersleben of the University of Sussex. Their report explains, “Plants directly contribute to creating a green, living environment within the indoor environment.” Putting plants inside can have health and wellbeing benefits, according to psychological studies.
Researchers cite a small number of studies, including a 1991 study by Roger Ulrich that found hospital patients who viewed views of nature needed less pain medication than those who were unable to connect with nature.
Office greenery helps ‘replenish’ our attention capacity
Urban environments are filled with dramatic stimuli, such as distractions requiring urgent, focused attention to avoid being hit by a bus. These stimuli, according to a team of researchers from the University of Michigan, are difficult to ignore. The stimulus of getting an urgent email or getting a request that needs an immediate response may be less dramatic than a bus crash, but it is equally immediate and “top-down.”
Unlike artificial environments, natural environments possess intriguing stimuli that subtly draw attention to themselves, the researchers say, adding natural environments contribute to re-filling our attention and focus capacities. Even the mere act of viewing pictures of nature makes a difference, according to the researchers; can you imagine what a wall garden might do?
Office plants can double as ‘friends’
At the TEDxWhiteRock conference, Canadian engineer Mike Robinson shared a novel approach that uses desk plants to help employees achieve a higher level of personal accountability. He won’t just give each employee a desk plant, or decorate the office with lush greenery. Instead, Robinson asked his team to choose their own desk plants and make decisions based on the feelings of the plants.
Thus, you must place yourself in the position of the plant and ask, “Which person would I like to become my new friend?” he says. In this way, ownership is engendered, as well as a sense of accountability. How did things turn out? According to Robinson’s empirical observations, employees have become more productive since choosing their plant friend and no plant has died since then.
Indoor plants don’t purify the air, but the perception is there
Most articles (and plant retailers) suggest that indoor plants purify the air, but this is likely not true in a standard office environment. In 1989, NASA scientist Bill Wolverton concluded that plants could be a promising economic solution to indoor air pollution. However, this research was conducted inside an airtight laboratory to determine if plants would benefit people in enclosed environments like space.
Elliot Gall of Portland State University tells The Atlantic that it’s an enticing and alluring idea. Scientific literature, however, shows that houseplants used inside a building—as would typically be the case—do little to improve the air quality. An office with more greenery, however, increases the perception of air quality. Especially in workplaces where employee happiness, energizing, and engagement are important, this could also be important.
Finding Inspiration in Office Plants
The image of a modern office space includes draping greenery on walls, succulents on window sills, and potted plants on desks. However, office greenery has numerous benefits. Increased productivity and renewed focus are two of the benefits of office plants. A biophilic design can lead to longer time in a space, and workplace happiness improves when natural elements are introduced.
Justin Mast, CEO of Bloomscape and a member of WeWork, recommends choosing a plant that is interesting both to you and to anyone around you. You should choose plants that have a personal connection to you. Or, simply be excited about.