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Why you should have plants in the office

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An original study

This new paper, entitled ‘The Relative Benefits of Green Versus Lean Office Space’, supports Wilson’s theory – and directly contradicts the trend for lean offices. It analyses the impact of lean (no decoration) and green offices (those with plants) on perceptions of air quality, concentration, workplace satisfaction and productivity.

Three individual experiments were conducted, each with a different focus. The first used an open plan office design and examined the short term benefits of a green office on perceived air quality, concentration, workplace satisfaction and various measures of productivity. The second focused on the long term effects of the same variables.

Finally, the third study, which took place at a global consultancy firm in London, examined the effects of office design on levels of productivity.

This study differs from others conducted in the past, as it provides a direct, quantitative assessment of the benefits of a lean approach to office space relative to those of a green alternative. The particular advantage of this new research is that it uses an experimental approach in a live environment over both a short and long period of time.

Dispelling the lean philosophy

Despite a push for lean offices, the findings from this research identify a consistent pattern whereby workers in green workspaces have a more positive orientation to their work environment. Enriching previously lean offices with plants, served to significantly increase workplace satisfaction and reported levels of concentration.

The data from the report reveal that a green working environment is consistently more enjoyable for employees, which can be strongly linked to the productivity of the business. According to attention restoration theory, natural environments exert less demand on directed attention and therefore encourage more effortless thinking, thereby allowing the capacity of attention to be restored. It makes sense then that through introducing plants into a man-made space, such as an office building, you should be able to enhance employees directed-attention capacity and consequently concentration levels.

Whilst some less forward-thinking companies adopt this lean approach (which, it is worth noting, can trace its origins to theories developed over a century ago, and which have never stood up to proper scientific scrutiny), more innovative companies are using installations such as live pictures and green walls/dividers inside the office, to create more of a natural environment. Although the lean concept is seen to have particular appeal in a time of general economic recession because it fits with an emphasis on austerity, it appears that making that small investment in plants can have a long term impact on the well-being of your employees and productivity of your business.

The time has passed when we see plants purely as decoration. We need to be open minded and understand the reality that incorporating more of a natural environment into your workplace can have its rewards.

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