The quest to design the perfect office space—a working environment that boosts employee well-being and maximizes productivity—is never-ending. Some swap cubicles for open layouts. Others ditch chairs in favor of standing desks. Now, thanks to research showing a link between plants and productivity, offices might be about to get greener.
A new paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology asserts that “investing in landscaping the office with plants will pay off through an increase in office workers’ quality of life and productivity.” Researchers in the UK and the Netherlands noticed that large commercial workplaces in Europe were becoming increasingly sparse, or “lean,” designed according to the principle that minimalism helps workers focus. In response to what they thought was a misguided trend, the researchers conducted a series of studies over 18 months to show that having plants in offices made working conditions better, based on both objective measures of productivity and subjective measures such as perceived air quality, self-reported concentration, and individual employee satisfaction.
In the studies, offices were made greener with installations of leafy plants that were, on average, 90 centimeters (about 3 feet) tall—with one plant for every square meter of office space. “What was important was that everybody could see a plant from their desk,” one of the co-authors of the research told the Guardian. The greening of offices that had previously been “lean” was associated with a 15% increase in productivity.
Other quotes from the researchers indicate that these studies are more meaningful for refuting the virtues of spartan offices than for supporting the merits of green ones. Aside from the effects on perceived air quality, the plants were important mostly for making workers “more physically, cognitively, and emotionally involved in their work.” But the same might be said for sprucing up workspaces with art or personal mementos, which, unlike plants, will not perish if left unattended.