Julie Tucker
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The benefits of houseplants in a working environment

According to scientific research, having plants in the workplace can provide numerous health benefits, having been proven to reduce employee sickness and absenteeism.

The presence of plants in a coworking space gives workers the chance to be connected with nature. Whether subconsciously or actively; the human desire to connect with nature even has the scientific name “biophilia”.

Plants in coworking spaces

Coworking spaces are increasingly making plants an integral part of the workplace. While many have introduced a relatively small selection of indoor greenery, others have taken the concept to a whole new level.

Madrid-based architecture studio Selgascano has filled its spacious basement office space with flowers and pot plants, giving the impression of a forest floor, in the belief that communicating with nature can help fuel creativity.

Architects from Selgascano have recently collaborated with the owners of Second Home, a Lisbon-based coworking space for creative companies, to design a large office containing more than 2,000 plants and trees from around 100 different species! It takes a whole team of local gardeners to regularly water, manicure and maintain them.

The natural approach is designed to make the people who work in the coworking space happier and more creative.

Plants reduce mental fatigue

As well as looking beautiful, providing visual privacy and acoustic insulation, plants can help our brain to recharge; increasing cognition, while improving productivity.

This is because plants can give our brain a break during intense tasks, according to Co Design’s Eric Jaffe, who has written extensively on the subject of “attention restoration theory”. Our brains use a lot of energy doing tasks that need direct attention. The resulting mental fatigue can be alleviated by giving our direct attention a break.

Although sleep is a good cure, this isn’t an option when we’re at work, so we need to refresh our mind by shifting to an indirect and effortless type of engagement. Nature provides this type of absorbing, restorative energy.

Research by scientists at Sydney’s University of Technology found workers enjoyed a marked reduction in stress when plants were added to their office. Feelings of depression fell by 58%, stress and anxiety reduced by 37% and there was a 38% drop in fatigue. The study concluded even a small number of plants in the workplace could “promote well-being and performance” and provide a “large lift to staff spirits”.

Physical health benefits

Plants are also a natural air purifier, helping to remove potentially dangerous compounds that can be found indoors. They reduce the level of carbon dioxide, increase humidity, reduce pollutants including benzene and nitrogen dioxide, help lower the temperature and decrease levels of airborne dust.

Their ability to trap and capture pollutants means purer air quality and fewer breathing problems for occupants. Research has shown indoor plants can reduce headaches and fatigue for workers by 25%. Feeling better physically lifts our mood, improves our attention span and makes us more productive and creative.

Research carried out by US space agency NASA supports theories on indoor plants improving physical health and consequently emotional health. The studies were commissioned to determine the best environment for spacecrafts to ensure astronauts were kept in good health.

NASA’s Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement study suggested older office buildings were extremely well-insulated to maximise heat retention, reducing fresh air because of their airtight sealing. This caused allergy-related symptoms for workers including irritated eyes, drowsiness, congested sinuses, rashes, headaches and respiratory issues.

NASA studied how the introduction of plants improved the environment by reducing indoor pollution. The two-year study concluded using plants was a “promising approach” when it came to improving employees’ well-being. It also suggested that micro-organisms found in soil helped to reduce airborne pollutants.

Further research by the Plants and Indoor Environmental Quality Research Group at the University of Technology, Sydney, has found indoor plants can reduce carbon dioxide levels by between 10% and 25% in office buildings. The best plant to purify the air is any palm bigger than 20cm tall, as it can significantly reduce carbon dioxide.

Other plants found to be effective at removing pollutants from the indoor air include aloe, rubber plants and peace lilies.

How to look after houseplants

Unless you’re lucky enough to have a team of dedicated gardeners to look after your office plants, you’ll need to understand some basic plant care techniques. Most plants prefer being placed in sunlight, so putting your office plants next to a window is the best place to keep them.

The soil in the pots should be moist, but not waterlogged. The best tip is to keep a check on the soil by touching it. If it’s moist, the plant doesn’t need watering. If it’s starting to feel a little dry, water it. Never let the soil get bone dry, as this can stop the plant from growing, or can even kill it.

Similarly, over-watering can also damage or kill your plant. If water is pouring out of the bottom of the pot, you’ve over-watered it. Leave it to dry out a little before watering it again. If your plants are particularly large, you can buy a hand-held moisture meter from a garden centre or online to see how much water is retained around a plant’s roots.

It’s well worth the small effort to care for indoor plants in the workplace when you consider all their proven benefits.


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