From improving happiness to bolstering creativity, plants have been credited with countless benefits. Some researchers even suggest humans have an innate need to be connected with nature — a phenomenon called biophilia, which is what gives plants such a powerful presence.
But while some of the touted benefits have been scientifically proven, there are others — such as the claim that plants can purify indoor air — where the science is still out.
Most of us can agree that, at a minimum, plants make a space look great. But they also impact our physical and mental health in ways that are still being discovered.
Below, we’ve pulled together five of the greatest — and scientifically proven — benefits of office plants.
Plants improve workplace acoustics
Unwanted noise is often cited as one of the biggest productivity blockers in the office — and plants offer an easy and low-cost way to help improve workplace acoustics and absorb ambient noise (although we can’t promise it will fully muffle your coworker two desks over).
In fact, urban designers will often use plants including trees, hedges and shrubs to muffle the noise of busy freeways. Workplace designers will, likewise, often use plants to muffle unwanted ambient noise in the office.
Caring for plants fuels a sense of accomplishment
In a 2019 survey, we found that employees most value productivity in the workplace over social bromides and fun perks.
Curiously, taking care of plants has been linked to a sense of accomplishment in outside scientific studies (even if it’s just watering a succulent once a month).
“Any time someone takes ownership in something by doing it themselves, they exude pride in accomplishment,” Gwenn Fried, manager of Horticulture Therapy at NYU Langone’s Rusk Rehabilitation, tells Prevention.
So the next time you take five minutes to water your plants, remember this: you’re accomplishing something, no matter how small.
Plants can improve your overall health
With the possible exception of Ferris Buehler, few people enjoy sick days — especially during a global pandemic.
The good news: A number of studies show that indoor plants can have a number of positive impacts on our physical well-being.
Researchers think this has as much to do with the calming effects of plants as it does their physical properties, including how they release oxygen and moisture, increasing the humidity of the air around them.
Another study found that workers with office plants reported fewer respiratory issues, including coughing and sore throats.
And if you do come down with something, plants can help you recover faster. When a heart and lung medical center in Norway added plants to its common areas, patients reported a greater increase in wellbeing four weeks later compared to patients who coalesced without the benefit of indoor plants.
Plants can increase focus and creativity
A recent Human Spaces report found that employees whose offices included natural elements and indoor plants scored 15% higher for creativity.
With all of the benefits above, it isn’t too far of a stretch to say plants can put you in a better mood. But houseplants have been scientifically proven to boost your mental health, too.
Studies have shown that people who spend more time outside in nature have a significantly more positive outlook on life than people who spend a great deal of time indoors.
This is something workplace designers have sought to incorporate into the interior designs of office spaces over the past decade. A notable example includes Apple’s new headquarters, which includes more than 9,000 trees.
Of course, a solution doesn’t have to be this extravagant — especially if you’re working remote due to COVID-19. Whether it’s adding a few low-cost plants into your workspace or sitting near a window, there are easy solutions that can increase your self-esteem and mood.
What are the visual benefits of office plants?
Beyond their ability to improve our health and mood, plants also carry a number of visual benefits that can color our workdays.
Part of this comes down to color psychology, a school of thought that suggests different colors can “evoke psychological reactions,” according to Verywell Mind. Psychologists have found that the color green, and the presence of living plants, can evoke a calming sensation, compassion for others, excitement and optimism.
Some researchers theorize this is because our eyes easily perceive the color green with very little effort due to evolutionary pressures — and because it sits squarely in the middle of the visible light spectrum.
“With less strain to perceive the colors, our nervous system can relax when perceiving the tone,” says CNN. “This sedative quality of green may explain why there is so much of it in hospitals, schools and work environments.”
But while plants can improve the aesthetic value of our workspaces, they also help bring more natural elements into the workplace design — which can make a big difference when it comes to employee productivity and happiness.
“We’ve done work that shows that if you depart from natural design with patterns uncommon in nature, it can make people uncomfortable,” says Dr. Arnold Wilkins, Professor of Psychology at the University of Essex, in a conversation with Hana.
He continues: “The brain works harder when it has to deal with images that it wasn’t designed to deal with — images that have a great deal of repetition, for instance.”
By bringing more natural elements into the workspace such as natural light and plants, you can ease mental and eye strain and improve your overall mood and focus.
How office plants reduce stress and boost productivity
Among the most often repeated benefits of office plants? Reducing stress and increasing productivity.
This typically comes down to two much-cited studies:
So, how exactly does a succulent or a Bonsai tree or a Bamboo stalk reduce stress and improve productivity?
The science is still out. For decades, researchers theorized that indoor plants cleaned the air, removing pollutants and carbon dioxide from indoor environments. This, in turn, produced more oxygen-rich environments, which would decrease stress and boost productivity.
Subsequent studies have found this theory to be false. Scientists now say the boosts to productivity and reductions in stress likely come from the happiness plants evoke.
“Bringing plants in, bringing greenery in — it’s about having something near you that’s alive, that you’re caring for, that brings you joy and happiness,” Ariel Ries, a horticulturist, tells The Atlantic. “And that affects your mood, whether or not it’s giving you more oxygen to breathe or something.”
The best plants for your office or desk
With all the benefits plants offer, they can make an excellent — and low-cost — addition to your workspace, whether it’s in your home office or in the workplace.
At Hana, our interior design teams know the value of bringing plants into the workspace. They also know that finding durable and easy-to-care-for plants can be helpful — especially if you don’t have a green thumb.
With that in mind, we pulled together a handful of plants that are easy to care for, and hard to kill:
Pothos (Epipremnum): A popular office plant for good reason. It’s a fast-growing plant that cascades gracefully from hanging baskets or high shelves. Pothos tolerates both shady corners and sunny windows. This is a plant that needs to be watered every few days — but, importantly, it will survive an occasional period of dryness.
Snake plant (Sansevieria): Snake plants cut a distinctive figure with stiff, upright leaves that can go a long time without water. As a rule, watering a snake plant monthly is ideal. These plants can tolerate both hot environments and heavily air conditioned spaces, and are a great choice for a shady corner.
Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum): Central heating and air conditioning can sap humidity indoors, especially in the winter, which can raise your chances for catching a cold or the flu (or just make your skin feel dry).
In these cases, spider plants are an ideal fit — because they naturally add moisture to the air. One study found a collection of spider plants boosted the relative humidity in a bedroom from 20% to a more comfortable 30%. Plus, these are easy plants to take care of — and they strike a classic look.
Succulents: There’s a reason succulents are popular with everyone from “plantfluencers” to office workers. They're low maintenance, easy to grow and care for and suited to almost every indoor environment. Succulents are best placed on the windowsill where they can get the most sunlight. They require minimal watering and come in a range of sizes and shapes, perfect for grouping together.
Ultimately, the plants you choose should fit the space you have for them. If you have a small shelf or corner of a room, you don’t want to overdo it with a giant tree or fern. A succulent or snake plant might just fit the space nicely.
Take this with you
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep record numbers of professionals working outside the office, people are looking to find ways to improve their home workspaces, and keep stress at bay.
At Hana, we believe in the power of nature to transform workspaces.
“Plants are something that help psychologically and keep us grounded,” says Andrew Kao, Hana’s Vice President of Product & Experience Design. “Studies have found we’re more productive and happier when we have some greenery around us.”
Boasting a running list of benefits — including better acoustics, a sense of accomplishment, improved overall health, increased focus and creativity and a better mood — incorporating plants is a must for any workspace.