Imagine an average employee working an average white collar job for an average faceless multinational corporation. You’re probably picturing sterile corporate offices with hundreds of identical cubicles stretching across vast dismal floors devoid of natural light.
But those days are behind us. A few of those offices still exist, but they’re an anachronism. Most modern workplaces are well lit, open plan and with at least some attempt at personality.
And what’s the big thing right now? Plants. You can call it lots of different things – “biophilic design”, “bringing the outside in”, “indoor greening”, but they basically all just mean putting plants in the office.
You might think this is just businesses jumping on the houseplant trend, but there’s a lot more to it. Office plants can help you get more work done, be happier while you’re doing it, and even stay healthy as well. A bit of greenery could even give your entire career a nudge in the right direction.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that our brains crave nature. For the vast majority of human history, we roamed forests and grasslands. We’ve only just started living in towns and cities, and we need to get back to the wilds sometimes.
Whether it’s a walk in the woods or an office full of plants, an infusion of nature makes us happier and less stressed.
And that’s not just new age mysticism or a hippie mantra. It’s a fact backed by a wide array of peer-reviewed scientific studies.
Surrounding yourself with greenery really can make you happier.
Choosing Your Plants
It doesn’t seem to matter which plants you choose when it comes to the mental health benefits they provide. Even looking at the color green can boost your mood, so choosing a calathea over a maranta shouldn’t make much of a difference.
But you do have to consider the environment in your office. Light, temperature and humidity are all important, and so is the amount of maintenance the plants are going to need. Cast iron plants, peace lilies, ivy, weeping figs, philodendrons, nerve plants and echeveria succulents are all great plants for most offices.
The positive impacts of plants aren’t limited to the mind – they’re physically measurable.
Exposure to nature will reduce your blood pressure, a much-needed benefit in our stressful, hyperactive modern lives. And this holds whether you’re in a teeming jungle or looking at a pot plant on your desk.
Lower stress levels are associated with greater creativity and higher quality work, so a few plants in the office really could help you get more done.
And lower blood pressure reduces your chances of having a stroke, heart attack or kidney failure. Not a bad side effect!
Fight the Flu
Some of the physical benefits of plants are more indirect. A group of plants clustered together will significantly raise the local humidity, which really matters in northern winters. The cold air will dry out your nose and throat, preventing them from doing their job properly. Higher humidity fixes the problem so your body’s natural defences are ready to fight off bacteria and other harmful microscopic particles in the air.
Ultimately, that means you’re less likely to get ill. As unlikely as it might seem, a collection of leafy plants can genuinely help you to avoid the dreaded winter flu.
And better health means fewer sick days, so more work gets done in the office.
Plants also filter the air before you breathe it in.
NASA famously carried out a study on the air-cleaning capabilities of houseplants 30 years ago. They were hoping that plants could play a role in maintaining high air quality in rockets and space stations. While NASA eventually chose technological solutions instead, they did find that certain plants scrubbed harmful chemicals like benzene and formaldehyde from the air.
Breathing in these pollutants isn’t good for us, and the long-term impacts could be serious. We spend over 90% of our time indoors, so filling our homes and offices with plants seems like a great way to stay healthier for longer.
If you find it hard to concentrate in an open-plan office, you’re not alone. These spaces might be great for collaboration, but they make focussed work much more difficult for most of us.
Plants might not be the obvious solution here, they do have something to offer. Rather than breaking up the room with panels and partitions, you can use tall plants to separate out different areas instead.
Snake plants, palms, dracaena and bamboo can all grow tall enough to make effective barriers. You can even buy movable living walls like miniature vertical gardens so you can change your office layout whenever you like. All this greenery will absorb lots of noise as well as partitioning the room, so you kill two productivity-ruining birds with one stone.
The famous Stanford Marshmallow Experiment showed the world the power of delayed gratification. It basically showed that you’re more likely to succeed in life if you’re willing to do what you don’t want to do now, in order to get a bigger payoff later on.
What does this have to do with office plants? Well, a recent Dutch study found that exposure to natural (as opposed to urban) landscapes “reduced future discounting” in the participants. In other words, looking at greenery improved their ability to delay gratification.
We know that this is one of the most important predictors of future success, so any improvements could have a huge compounding effect on your career. A few pot plants might not have the same effect as photos of a wild forest, and more research is needed in this area.
But when you consider all the other benefits plants give us, the possibility of a brighter future is just the icing on the cake.
Bio: Sam Coppard is a writer and growth marketer for Candide, an app for gardeners and plant lovers to be inspired, share their gardening highs and lows, and learn more about their plants.