- Biophilic design is having its moment in workplaces around the world.
- Offices full of plants can lead to a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce.
- To make the most of plants in the workplace, you need to consider which type of plant to buy (low-maintenance ones that need indirect light are best) and where to place them within the workplace environment.
This article was written by Sam Coppard, growth marketer at Candide, a UK-based startup that makes apps for plant lovers.
Fueled by a wave of millennial instagrammers, the houseplant trend has catapulted indoor greenery to greater heights than ever before.
And it’s not confined to our homes. Biophilic design is having its moment in offices around the world.
But this is more than just another passing fad. A growing body of evidence suggests there’s more to this foliage frenzy than simply jumping on the aesthetic bandwagon.
It might sound too good to be true, but an office full of plants could be the key to a happier, healthier and more productive work life.
How Plants Increase Productivity
Humans evolved in nature, and our brains are hardwired to seek it out. Just looking at plants is enough to lower stress levels, reduce your blood pressure and improve your mood. It’s so effective that shinrin-yoku, the Japanese act of “forest bathing” is regularly prescribed as part of a treatment plan for depression, stress and other illnesses.
But you don’t have to spend hours in the woods to get these benefits. Studies have shown that a single visible office plant can have a noticeable positive impact. Even looking at the colour green can have a positive effect.
How does this increase productivity?
Simple. Happier, less stressed workers get more done.
Sick Building Syndrome
The benefits of plants aren’t limited to the mind – they can make you physically healthier too.
Sick Building Syndrome is a widely reported but poorly understood phenomenon where people only show symptoms of illness while indoors, usually in a particular place. That place is normally an office, with poor air quality the most likely culprit.
Plants improve air quality by producing oxygen and removing pollutants like formaldehyde, benzene and ammonia. But some plants are better at removing pollutants than others.
NASA studied various houseplants to see if they could improve air quality on spaceships. They found that peace lilies, Boston ferns, spider plants, English ivy and weeping figs were among the most effective air scrubbers.
Anyone who lives in a humid area will tell you how unpleasant it can be. But dry air is a bigger problem indoors and causes issues of its own.
Low humidity dries out your nasal passages, increasing the risk of infection. This is one of the reasons you’re more likely to get sick during the winter.
But the more plants you have, the higher the humidity will be. Just look at jungles like the Amazon that create their own rain through the sheer number of plants.
So filling your office with plants will help to protect you from illness. And nothing tanks productivity like an office full of sick workers.
The cubicle is dead. Open-plan offices are everywhere these days. But researchers have found that it’s harder for employees to concentrate in these collaboration-focused environments.
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This is mostly due to excessive noise and distractions.
Plants can help in two ways. Firstly, you can use rows of medium-sized plants like dracaena, philodendrons or snake plants to act as a screen between different areas.
Secondly, plants are great at absorbing sound, and they can have a huge impact in an otherwise sparse corporate space.
How to Choose the Best Office Plants
If you just want to harness the productivity-boosting effects of plants, there’s not much to it. Just make sure everyone in the office can see at least one plant, and you’ll be on the right track.
You can go a step further by clustering several plants together to raise the humidity and fight that dry office air.
But some plants are much better suited to the office than others. Plants that need lots of natural light will suffer, and the same is true of plants that need frequent care and attention.
What to Look for
You’ll want low-maintenance plants that are happy in indirect light. And it makes sense to choose at least a few that will improve air quality.
Some particularly good choices are tradescantia, marantas (prayer plants), echeveria succulents, air plants in the windows, the nearly indestructible cast iron plant, the low-light loving Guiana chestnut, lucky bamboo, boston fern, and the fast-growing pothos.
Where to Put Office Plants
Different plants will be happier in different places. A huge statement tree might get in the way if it’s near the desks, but it would look spectacular in a foyer. Most succulents and cacti won’t get the light they need in the middle of the office, but they’ll thrive by the windows.
Larger plants are great for empty corners and meeting rooms, while smaller plants on the desks will keep everyone happy. This is the place for higher maintenance plants as well – most people will enjoy spending a minute or two looking after their plant each week.
You’re not the only one bringing the outside in. So maybe you want to do something a little bit different.
Take some time to seek out more unusual plants! They’re not always more expensive, and watching them grow can be fascinating. You could even give every employee a plant budget and let them buy whatever takes their fancy. It’s an unusual approach, but it works (trust me, I know because it’s what we do at Candide).
By letting employees choose the nature decor, we’ve ended up with a huge variety of beautiful plants around the office. Stress levels are lower, sick days are fewer and productivity is higher.
If you need inspiration, take a look at Second Home, the undisputed office plant champions. Their extraordinary coworking spaces are designed to maximize creativity, and they’re practically overflowing with plants.
The original Second Home in London includes a tree spanning two floors and hundreds of large pot plants all over the building. And they seem to go bigger and greener with every new office.
They’ve squeezed over 1,000 plants into the Lisboa space.
Even more incredibly, their new Hollywood office is home to 6,500 trees and plants. That makes it LA’s densest urban forest.
Of course, you don’t need to plant an entire jungle to boost your productivity. But it’s always good to remember that there’s no such thing as too many plants!
About the author
Sam Coppard is a writer and content marketer for Candide Gardening, a UK-based startup that makes apps for plant lovers. He’s got six plants on his desk at the moment, and he spends a little bit too much time trying to work out how to squeeze in another.