Workplace design does matter – as humans we think better and stay healthier when we spend time connected with nature. Biophilia is vital to our health, wellbeing and performance.

With a survey revealing how Americans (and presumably Australians) spend an alarming 80-90% of their waking hours indoors, it’s imperative to find new ways of keeping us in contact with greenery.

Indoor plants at work were found by an Australian study from UTS to raise productivity and performance, improve job satisfaction, lower stress and reduce the amount of time taken off as sick leave. Far from being the latest fad or pseudoscience, office foliage helps boost the bottom line.

In modern workplace design the top five elements desirable for a work space, according to the survey respondents, are:

  1. Natural light (44%)
  2. Indoor plants (20%)
  3. Quite working space (19%)
  4. View of the sea (17%)
  5. Bright colours (15%)

However there is clearly room for improvement, as the 2015 Human Spaces Report revealed 58% of offices surveyed had no plants and 47% had no natural light.

Importantly, one third of the people surveyed reported that office design would affect their decision to work for a company, which should come as little surprise considering we spend over a third of our lives at work. Working in an environment that supports wellbeing, and is light and bright, matters.

Enter the humble pot plant. Adding extra greenery to modern workplace design does more than just improve the aesthetics – green certified offices in the US report a 26% increase in cognition, 30% lower absenteeism notices and 6% reported improved sleep quality. Even more telling, the Cogfx study noted a doubling of cognitive function scores for occupants of green buildings.

Plants reduce stress

The Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku Forest therapy or forest bathing was developed in the 1980s as a way to detoxify from stress. Spending time in a natural forest space has been shown to boost the immune system, lower stress hormones and blood pressure and improve mood. It makes sense that when getting away for a long weekend or a vacation, most feel an urge to get into the countryside and away from the urban jungle.

Office indoor plants
Image: growing_jungle Instagram

While forests at work could prove a little cumbersome, indoor plants produce a similar calming effect. Adding any greenery to the workspace, canteen or boardroom or painting the walls green (sage green or seafoam is recommended) calms minds and fosters creative thinking, innovation and imagination.

Plants enhance mental wellbeing

The new prescription for better health and mental wellbeing includes spending 120 minutes a week in nature. This can be achieved by careful landscape design outside the office, but if this is not possible, installing internal green spaces, roof gardens or a view towards greenery all count. Encouraging staff to leave the building during work breaks or holding external walking meetings are ways to boost employee-nature interactions.

Plants fend off mental fatigue

Mental exhaustion is a productivity killer, which is why taking a mental minibreak several times a day can restore energy, vitality and attention. A 40-second micro-break spent looking out over a roof garden is shown to be far more restorative than looking at a concrete view.

Patients have been shown to recover more quickly from illness and surgery if the view from the hospital bed includes greenery and nature.

Office indoor plants
Image: growing_jungle Instagram

Getting a desk close to a window with natural light and a green outlook is ideal but can’t be available to everyone. This is where planter boxes, desk pot plants, green walls and indoor trees can assist in bringing the office to life.

Just being able to see a plant in your peripheral vision is enough to boost psychological engagement with your work. The long-term benefits of increasing productivity by up to 15% through greening up the office space include increased job satisfaction, well-being and attention, and reduced Presenteesim.

For a cost-effective way to enhance thinking, mood and performance, it’s time to reconsider the value of the pot plant.