Good businesses are always looking for opportunities to be more productive, any potential improvements can have a positive impact in achieving a healthier balance sheet. Often the most effective way to do this is by getting more from their staff. Traditionally workplaces have looked to do this by encouraging employees to work longer and harder, however, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests this approach can be counter productive - with unhappy and tired workers producing lower quality work at a slower rate.
This has lead to businesses looking for novel ways to increase productivity, and one route is by creating a happier and healthier workforce. Office environment is one of the easiest ways to achieve this, with office plants one of the most simple and effective means of creating a productive office.
Plants have been found to improve productivity in workplaces by around 15% through both physical and psychological benefits, as well as aesthetic ones. They are, therefore, an easy way to create an attractive office that gets the most out of your workers, by keeping them happy, healthy, and firing on all cylinders!
Improved cognitive function
Green offices improve the brain function of their workers. Studies have found that, compared to their counterparts in conventional offices, those with plants in their immediate environment score, on average, 25% higher on tests of cognitive function. This improvement is seen most clearly in high pressure response situations, information usage, and strategic planning - three valuable skills, especially for those higher up in companies. An increase of this magnitude in those areas can potentially make a very real impact on the success of a business.
The reason for this is that plants create an environment that is beneficial to brain function, by directly combating harmful conditions that arise from human activities in the office. A recent study by Gensler found that the three people in a meeting room can cause CO2 level to rise in the room to a point in which they are cognitively impaired within an hour, as the brain is deprived of the oxygen it needs to operate at full capacity. The study then put plants in the same room and found that if they repeated the meeting, that there was no drop in cognitive ability.
Beyond the air, plants also help by psychologically improving the health of office inhabitants. In the presence of plants people are calmer, with lower blood pressure, improving mental endurance in the day and sleep quality at night. This manifests in both a more relaxed, and focused workforce.
The combination, therefore, of a well rested brain and body in a comfortable environment, where the brain is able to access oxygen, enables a large enhancement in cognitive function, and so vastly improves worker performance.
Offices, when poorly designed and maintained, can be detrimental to the health of their inhabitants due to poor physical conditions.
One of the main issues is air pollution. Much of the discourse around air pollution is focused on the outdoors, but internal air pollution can be as much of a risk. Degrading building materials, electronics and cleaning products generate harmful airborne pollutants. As well as pollution, the balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and humidity in the air can be negatively impacted by common offices activities, creating unhealthy environments that impair human function, create long term health problems, and are conducive to the spread of disease.
As well as physically, offices can, of course, be very emotionally and psychologically stressful environments. This can manifest in a host of both short term and long term problems, making a less healthy and functional workforce.
The negative health impacts caused by the conditions of the indoor environment are described by medical concept of Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). SBS encompasses a variety of ailments - both physical ones such as headaches and respiratory problems, as well as psychological - that are attributed to unhealthy or stressful factors in the working environment.
The symptoms of SBS can be initially small, however, with time they can develop into serious health problems and be debilitating to office inhabitants - reducing the quality of life of staff and impacting worker performance.
Plants are one of the most effective means of combating SBS. Studies have found that office plants reduce the prevalence of headaches and colds in the office, as well as the number of days taken off for illness.
Plants do this as many of their natural processes reverse the impacts of human activities - directly combating issues in air quality. - creating a healthier environment for workers. as they are constantly exchanging gases with their environment, and this means that they have a large effect on the properties of ambient air - absorbing CO2 and releasing Oxygen, whilst buffering the humidity of the air.
Beyond physical impacts, plants in the office can counteract the psycholgicaly impacts of the office. Plants reduce blood pressure and create a more relaxed environment. Their presence in offices, therefore, has been found to reduce feelings of tension, anxiety, depression and anger; as well as increasing energy levels.
These positive functions of plants have tangible impacts in the office. ‘Green offices’ can have as much as 30% less days off with sickness, as well as vastly improved feelings of wellbeing of those in the office. Creating a more present and effective workforce.
Happier and more creative workforce
Everybody knows that we are better at doing something if we’re happy doing it. This applies to the business world too - with employees who describe themselves as happy 20% more productive than those who don’t. This can lead to large impacts on company performance with the stock prices of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work for" rising 14% per year from 1998 to 2005, while companies not on the list reporting only a 6% increase.
Offices that are more green have a happier workforce. The psychological impacts make people more relaxed and so enables happier interactions between workers, creating a more comfortable emotional environment. Workers with plants in their immediate environment have 15% increased levels of self reported wellbeing.
It is proposed that this is down to ‘Attention restoration theory’ This theory suggests that looking at nature can cause the brain to shift into a different mode of processing. Researchers studied brain scans of people who were randomly assigned to look at pictures of a green meadow or a concrete roof for 40 seconds. Even this brief glimpse of nature was enough to shift the brain into a more relaxed mode.
This relaxed mode allows staff to concentrate more effectively and so enables them to be more creative. Offices with plants have been found to be 15% more creative, making businesses more dynamic and innovative.