Beyond aesthetics: how office greenery enhances productivity and health

Office greenery does more than just look good – it boosts productivity, creativity, and even air quality. Dive into the world of biophilic design to see how pot plants, living walls and other touches of nature are revolutionising workspaces, making them healthier, happier, and more inspiring places to be.

Nature is good for us. It can boost our mental health, our physical fitness and clean the air that we breathe. Plus, it looks nice too. Biophilic design, which is the industry term for nature-focused interior decor, is something that has already been embraced in many office spaces. Whether it’s pot plants or a living wall, it can boost our output and calm our minds in surprising ways.

Calm and creativity

Research by the University of Exeter found that office plants could increase productivity by 15%. By introducing greenery into fairly spartan spaces people reported increased job satisfaction and higher levels of concentration. Another study by Wageningen University & Research found that introducing plants into an office could “bring down absence caused by sick leave”, partly because they improved the air quality of those spaces.

Plants can boost creativity too, specifically in the “preparation and incubation phases” of idea building, according to this report by a group of Danish scientists. And mental health charities including Mind and the Samaritans often champion the virtues of being outside as a way of feeling calm.

Perhaps it is the slow, rush-resistant nature of growth. Or the nurturing of a plant. Or just the life that they bring to hard corners and bare walls that has such a meaningful effect on people. We have long understood the link between plants and health, it goes back centuries, but through various design trends and office models it got lost for a while. Fortunately, it has come back into fashion.

Setting the environment

Biophilic design began as an architectural movement based around natural light, big views, and ventilation. Those three features are still absolutely key, but the current incarnation also relies on the shapes, colour and myriad other benefits of plants. Amazon built a giant greenhouse for their employees in downtown Seattle. Staff are able to seek out some quiet time amongst four stories of waterfalls, fish tanks and terrariums, and more than 40,000 plants. Similarly, Microsoft employees can use treetop conference rooms in a pine forest, which form part of a “large new system of technology-enabled outdoor districts”.

On a smaller scale, the essence of biophilic design can be achieved by bringing in carefully curated plants into an office – plants specifically selected to clean the air, add movement, and even sound. Sansevieria laurentii (or the Snake plant) is one of the best plants for removing toxins such as formaldehyde, ammonia and carbon monoxide from the air – which are present in some newly manufactured furniture. Peace lilies and ferns are also great clean-air plants, whereas Monstera and even indoor trees can add stature and shape.

You can amplify the effects in other ways too. Natural materials and artworks can give people the feeling of being in nature even if they’re miles away from it. And we’ve talked about soundscapes before – some modern offices are using the sound of falling rain or lapping waves to boost mood and creativity.

Spaces’ green zones

We at Spaces have always understood the benefits of biophilic design, which is why so many of our offices have outside space and ranging views. Our Spaces Kaibin Ltd in Shanghai is set in sunken ground with huge windows and glass ceilings that let in light and frame views of the surrounding bamboo. It’s somehow both cocooning and open. There is also a garden area where people can unwind.

Spaces Tullinløkka in Oslo, Norway is built from 80% recycled materials, including plenty of reused wood for a natural feel. The designers salvaged pieces from 25 refurbished or demolished buildings across Oslo, including windows, wall tiles, and benches from an old swimming pool. The use of reclaimed tiles alone saved 34,000kg of CO2 in the construction project. Of course, there are plants too, and lots of them.

And the double-height windows in Spaces Two MQ, Melbourne flood every private office, meeting room and communal zone with natural light, while many work areas overlook the building’s sky garden on the floor below.

From the natural-light-filled Spaces Westerpark in Amsterdam’s creative quarter, to the timber-framed Spaces R Street in Sacramento, California, the list could go on, and there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to incorporating nature into the working day. But what is indisputable is that to most people, access to the outdoors enhances positivity, health, and therefore productivity too. That can be achieved through design certainly, but also through approach. Hybrid working gets people out of long commutes and into spaces where they want to be and whether that’s close to home, beside the sea, or in a considerately designed space in town, it can all play a part in the biophilic ethos.

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