Why indoor plants are an office design must-have

Mood-boosting greenery is moving from fashionable to fundamental

January 30, 2020

Connecting with nature can make humans feel better physically, mentally and emotionally. It is little wonder then that plants are becoming a workplace staple.

“A healthy, productive environment is a priority for employers who are quickly recognising the link to business performance,” says Anthony Walsh, Design Director, JLL. “Indoor plants are essential to the modern, environmentally enhanced office.”

The biophilia hypothesis, which aims to bring elements from nature, such as plants, water and natural light, into man-made environments, is establishing itself as an important ethos among designers as it makes mental and physical wellbeing - not just aesthetically pleasing spaces - a function of interior design.

The approach is backed by myriad studies which show greenery can improve workers’ focus, positivity, productivity, and even loyalty. It can also add moisture to dry, air-conditioned offices, and improve air quality.

For purpose-driven businesses, greenery can also be a statement of sustainability.

Some of the world’s most enviable office designs are dominated by nature. The Tokyo office of recruitment firm Pasona Group, features an ‘indoor farm’, where tomato vines are suspended above conference tables, lemon and passionfruit trees act as partitions, salad leaves are grown inside seminar rooms and bean sprouts cultivate beneath benches.

The New York headquarters of e-commerce website Etsy incorporates planters, green walls, green columns, and hydroponic green partitions. Native plantings on an outdoor terrace serve as a local habitat for pollinating insects.

In practical design terms, plants are proving a versatile asset, particularly in open plan offices, which are said to account for 90 percent of all workplaces.

“The concept of the open plan office is constantly evolving to foster better employee engagement, productiveness, and satisfaction,” Walsh says. “Workers respond to a little bit of ‘home’ in their workplace, too, and plants have a role to play in that.”

Ferns, fronds and trees are a natural, non-permanent way of defining spaces, creating privacy and absorbing noise, while also adding visual variety and soft shapes to the rigid vertical and horizontal lines of an office.

Plus, they can help draw the eye to interesting areas, or alternatively enhance areas that are more bland.

In its Melbourne office, JLL introduced Kauri pines to draw attention to the building’s generous ceiling heights. The plants have also created a vibrant space for colleagues to collaborate and socialise, while special lighting help the plants thrive. 

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The presence of plants in office design results in “very large, statistically significant reductions in negative mood feelings of more than 40 percent”, according to a recent study by the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). Tension and anxiety also reduces by 37 percent, fatigue by 38 percent, and anger and hostility by 44 percent.

Plants can also reduce sick leave by as much as 60 percent by tackling negative mood states and stress, the study shows.

Even the colour of plants can influence moods, Walsh says.

“Plants should be considered as part of an overall colour scheme, with green regarded as relaxing, blue to enhance focus, and orange for bursts of inspiration.”

Keeping it clean

Greenery is also coveted for its germ-busting qualities. By releasing oxygen and filtering out harmful compounds, plants are known to improve the quality of office air, often linked to ‘sick building syndrome’, which affects the health, comfort and wellbeing of occupants.

In workplaces generally, a significant proportion of indoor air pollution is caused by computers, printers, paint, furniture and carpets, which, especially when first installed, can emit volatile organic compounds. High levels of carbon dioxide may also be present and cause drowsiness and headaches.

The UTS study found that close-by living greenery acts as a restorative.

“Plants are the modern office’s secret weapon,” Walsh says. “They pay dividends in employee health and wellbeing - and therefore productivity - all for a relatively small investment.”

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