Biophilic workspace design: here’s why plants are the real office heroes

April 27, 2021

As humans, we’re a part of nature, and nature is a part of us. Even if our actions over the past few centuries have been quite detrimental to the needs of our natural environment, we possess, according to Erich Fromm, an inherent “love of life and all that is alive”. This instinctive bond between humans and other living systems is known as “biophilia”, and the architectural concept of biophilic design is strengthening this human-nature connection in our workspaces.

What is biophilic workspace design?

Biophilic design focuses on creating spaces which connect the occupants of the space more closely with nature by incorporating natural elements within the space. Natural lighting and ventilation systems, plus natural landscape features are all common elements of this design style. Studies have shown that biophilic design in the office can have a positive influence on our working manner and well-being. So it’s not surprising that biophilic design is increasingly being incorporated into New Work settings. Yet the integration of biophilic design is only one of many approaches being explored in future-focused workspace design. Most companies don’t have the means to layout their own biophilic design workspace and set up their own conservatory with 40,000 plants – which Amazon has ironically done in their Seattle biodome office “The Spheres". However, under no circumstances can biophilic design release us – whether as companies or as individuals – from our duty to act responsibly towards nature.

Why every workspace can be improved by plants

The integration of biophilic elements is undoubtedly beneficial, and plants are one of the easiest ways to bring some biophilic vibes into the workplace. Plants can work wonders for a run-of-the-mill office, turning it into a thriving work environment. Moreover, there’s a lot of scientific evidence supporting the advantages of greening up your office. Perhaps the most groundbreaking research on this topic can be found in a 2014 study conducted by Marlon Nieuwenhuis, Craig Knight, Tom Postmes and S. Alexander Haslam, titled “The Relative Benefits of Green Versus Lean Office Space: Three Field Experiments”. The following 4 reasons sum up why plants can improve every office:

1. Plants are visually appealing. A scientific study is not needed here, just a rather normal understanding of aesthetics. According to biophilia, we are all naturally drawn to plants. This applies, of course, only to plants which are alive and flourishing. Consequently, a dead snake plant sulking in the corner isn’t a nice sight and obviously not the best for reflecting the spirit of “a love for life and all things alive”.

2. Plants enhance productivity. Let’s be honest: there’s a lot of importance attached to being productive in the office. A study conducted by M. Nieuwenhuis et al., showed that plants could increase productivity in the office by up to 15%. They concluded that a green office can encourage us to be more physically, cognitively and emotionally involved in our work.

3. Plants keep us alert. Why drink coffee, when a nice potted plant can provide the same effect? A 2011 study from researchers at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and Cornell University revealed that indoor plants can prevent fatigue in the office when working on attention-demanding tasks.

4. Plants make us happy. Taking into consideration our deeply-rooted need for biophilia, it’s easy to understand that a green environment which resembles the natural world positively affects our human physiology, in turn making us feel better.

What are the best plants for my workspace? 

Well, dead ones certainly won’t cheer you up. So before we go overboard hauling an armada of plants into the office (which we’ll sheepishly have to toss onto the compost heap a few weeks later) let’s first think about which plants will flourish well in the workspace. How pretty the plant is shouldn’t be a priority, instead consider what type of light and care it requires, and whether your office can provide the right conditions for it to thrive. Luckily, there are a lot of plants out there which are extremely easy to care for. Check out The Spruce’s article, The 10 Best Plants for Your Office or Desk, which also includes handy plant care tips – and while you’re at it, take our quiz!