Does a green workspace improve productivity?

Does a green workspace improve productivity?

Marketing is, like most aspects of business, stressful. In the search for ways to reduce stress, companies are looking in every direction to help workers cope with their workload, from offering flexible working to mindfulness classes. With sickness absence costing the UK £29bn each year, who can blame them?

But the most recent trend has been to improve the actual working environment by creating welcoming green working spaces – offices filled with plants. With NASA conducting studies that claim indoor plants purify the air it seems logical that improving the healthiness of office environments could improve employee productivity.

While the jury is out on some of the research claims, one that seems to have gained most credibility over time is a 10-year international study in Australia, the UK and the Netherlands by the University of Exeter. It found that productivity increased by around 15% in offices containing plants.

Green productivity

But if you want to improve productivity by investing in greening your workspace, it’s worth consulting the experts. They warn you should avoid rushing into it, instead planning your approach carefully, and it’s a bit more complicated than deciding who will do the watering.

RHS Chelsea medal winner Paul Thomas, Director of House of Plants, has designed indoor planting for head offices of major UK corporations. He says not all plants survive office environments, that the design can improve the atmosphere in an office or antagonize internal politics, and there are many creative ways to use plants to maximise your investment.

Basic recommendations

First things first – no-one wants an office full of dead plants.

“We get asked a lot for unusual plants for office environments. By their very nature, there aren’t that many out there because they don’t thrive in the office environment. The ones you see are the ones that work,” he says.

He therefore suggests limiting your investment to species and genus that work – the really tough plants capable of surviving in a modern office.

He recommends two: Howea fosteriana, the Kentia Palm; and Dracaena (many types). If you need to add a third, he also thinks Sansevieria are a great “go-to” plant group.

Capable of coping with office environments they are “not maintenance-free but if you don’t know what you’re doing you’ll be OK,” he says.

Kentia Palm

Size of investment

So now you know what plants to choose, how much should you invest? Paul suggests the average office investment in plants is £1,500.

“Decide your budget first. You should spend half of this on big plants that can be viewed from anywhere. You can buy 10 small plants and have less impact than one big one,” he says.

The biggest mistake people make with office plants is over watering. A solution is self-watering pots. Paul recommends them highly.

“Go for a pot before you go for a plant. If it cuts your budget by half, go for it anyway. It will pay for itself in time. With 95% of plants, it removes the watering problem. It makes a dramatic difference.”

Design issues

The advantage of plants is their portability. So you can move them to create different looks in different areas. They can block unsightly corners, create focal points, reduce noise levels, even create directions – Paul has used the same plant to signpost exits, for example.

And different areas can be zoned by using the same plant, so Operations has one type of plant while Sales has a different type.

Dracaena Compacta

But here’s a major watch-out.

Paul says, “Never make people feel left out. I’ve seen instances where the executive has lots of plants and the call centre area, for example, has none. On the other hand, by spreading the plants throughout the office it’s a very good way to create a sense of inclusion – it can bring whole offices, or floors, together.”

So there are many benefits to having a green workspace. And by following these tips you should gain most of the benefits they can offer – including improving productivity.

Recommended office plants:

Howea fosteriana, the Kentia Palm

Dracaena, and for a variety of leaf shapes, colour and size: Dr. ‘Janet Craig’; Dr. ‘Compacta’, Dr. ‘Lemon and Lime’ and Dr.‘White Stripe’.