Office settings aren't typically known for lush greenery and environmental harmony, but adding a little plant life to your workplace can be an unexpected booster for workplace well-being.
"We're programmed to exist in a world with a certain amount of sunlight and greenery around us," says Christopher Satch, head of plant science and education at The Sill, a Manhattan-based plant shop and nursery that specializes in indoor greens. "We've actually removed a lot of that from our lives; we live in houses, cities, and office buildings, and a lot of these places usually don't have any plants at all and are totally removed from nature."
If your office boasts more florescent lighting than leafy foliage, you might want to perk up and read on. Infusing your office with plant life, it turns out, just might make for happier, healthier, more productive employees. Do plants actually improve well-being? The research says yes.
Office plants clean the air
The science here is pretty robust, supporting a very real link between plants and overall well-being. Satch points to a now-famous 1989 NASA study showing that plants happen to be stellar air purifiers. We regularly interact with all sorts of things that release volatile organic compounds—electronics, plastics, paints, you name it. Plants naturally filter indoor air pollution, making our spaces cleaner and more habitable.
Researchers at the State University of New York at Oswego took it further in a 2016 study that found certain houseplants to be super effective at cleansing the air of harmful chemicals. Of the five common varieties they studied, the dracaena plant was able to absorb roughly 95 percent of acetone from the air; the bromeliad plant removed over 80 percent of other volatile compounds. The findings are particularly noteworthy given the Sick Building Syndrome phenomenon, which experts say could get worse as climate change takes hold.
"We spend up to 90 percent of our time indoors on a daily basis, so we're breathing things in every day, so it's really important that we have plant life all around us," says Satch, adding that plants also serve as natural dust clings.
Office plants lower stress and promote good feelings
Office plants do a whole lot more than just purify the air. Horticulturist Justin Hancock told The Wall Street Journal last year that they can also reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and promote calm and relaxation. Satch echoes similar sentiments, adding that most well-being benefits stem from a psychological response that leads to a biochemical response inside the body.
One 2015 study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology echoes the same, suggesting that active interaction with indoor plants keeps stress at bay by suppressing the sympathetic nervous system and promoting soothing feelings.
Office plants give memory, cognition, and focus a boost
If you're looking to get management on board with more plant life in the office, just refer them to this 2011 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. Here, researchers suggest that indoor plants prevent fatigue and increase focus, especially during attention-demanding work. Travis Riddle at Scientific American expounded on the theory, citing other research that draws an intimate link between exposure to natural environments and improved attention and productivity.
We can't help but wonder if visual cues have anything to do with it. One 2015 University of Melbourne Study found that glancing at an image of a verdant rooftop garden for just 40 seconds markedly increased concentration. "Green is actually one of the colors that's most easily perceived by the eye," adds Satch.
"Seeing green unlocks certain chemical responses in the brain that boosts people's mood and helps them focus more." The fact that plants also help reduce noise pollution could be another contributing factor; according to the Harvard Business Review, indoor plants help absorb background noise, making for quieter work environments.
Incorporating greenery in the workplace
A green thumb isn't required to reap these benefits. To introduce your workspace to more greenery, Satch suggests beginning by taking stock of your setting. If you work in a windowless cubicle, your options are different than if you work in a sun-drenched open space.
"People tend to treat plants like a piece of furniture, using them to cover up wires or hide an ugly stain," says Satch. "Plants are actually living creatures, so it's important to be mindful that they have certain needs. All we have to do is understand our plants and meet those needs, then it's actually really easy to keep a bunch of plants."
Some rules of thumb: keep your plants as close to a window as possible. (The more light, the better.) If you have access to a lot of bright light, for example, cacti and palms are a great choice.
For those who work in slightly darker settings, don't fret. Our team tapped the experts to track down a handful of durable, office-friendly plants that can thrive in pretty much any setting.
The Sill also has an entire collection devoted to the office plants, featuring greens like the snake plant, ZZ plant and pothos, which all prefer moderate-to-low, indirect light. These are ideal if you're more than 10 feet away from a window.
Just be aware of any radiators or air conditioning units; the last thing you want to do is cook or freeze your new plants to death. And when you purchase a new plant, it's always wise to clarify how often to water it. In the end, it really comes down to understanding the circumstances under which specific plants will flourish.
"Recreating that natural environment will help it thrive," says Erin Marino, The Sill's marketing director. "You don't want to get a cactus if you have a really dark, ground-floor space. But if you have a huge, bright, sunny window that gets a lot of heat and sun, a cactus is going to do great there."
In other words, it pays to do a little research on the front end when cultivating your workplace jungle. And if you need expert help sourcing office plants and taking care of them, Managed by Q offers plant design and care services.