Art and plants – a dynamic duo for a healthy office

02 February 2016

What makes the perfect workplace for employee wellbeing? This is a question which would probably not even been thought of in years gone by but it is now a regular topic in many articles and studies and informing how new office, leisure and retail spaces are designed and decorated.

Office plants (or plants in any indoor space) do the vital job of making us feel reconnected with nature. This has a direct and real effect on our wellbeing, combatting stress, illness and tiredness and boosting concentration, creativity, health and our general mood.

In our industry the talk is increasingly about biophilia, which simply means reconnecting ourselves with nature, and the way we see and use plants indoors now is as much about how they create a healthy workplace as how good they look: luckily, they can easily do both!

A talking point in a dull meeting

Healthy distractions

Just seeing a plant or a view of nature has been proven to improve wellbeing, and so it is for art. A recent article in The Guardian cites the findings of Dr Craig Knight, who has studied the psychology of working environments for 12 years at the University of Exeter, where he heads a research group called Identity Realisation (IDR).

Knight and his team found that, rather than a lean office devoid of distractions, it is an ‘enriched’ workspace, with art and plants, for example, that boosts productivity and happiness.

The research team asked participants to do an hour’s work in four different types of office space:

  • Lean: containing only the things necessary to do the tasks.
  • Enriched: featuring art and plants which were already arranged.
  • Empowered: the same art and plants but participants could choose where to put them.
  • Disempowered: participants could arrange the art and plants themselves – but the experimenter then undid these personal touches and reverted to the enriched layout.

The people who worked in the enriched office worked about 15% quicker than those in the lean office and had fewer health complaints – this figure then doubled for people who worked in the empowered space. As for those who’d seen their personal touches undermined; their productivity levels were the same as those in the lean space.

“In 12 years we have never found that lean offices create better results; and the more involved people are in the enrichment process, the more they are able to realise a part of themselves in the space,” explains Knight.

Knight specifies that the art should be something which encourages contemplation or analysis: no motivational posters, rather something which is a talking point, or creates a feel of dynamism about the place, whatever the nature of your work. Bright modern art, for example, or even light installations.

Plants bring a sense of calmness and wellbeing to a workplace, while art injects it with more dynamism: both create an escape from the daily grind and allow us to return to our tasks refreshed, happier and hopefully, more inspired.