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Green Up Your Workspace: Plants Make You More Productive

We don't need science to tell us that flowers delivered to the office make us happy, or that a potted plant adds a nice touch of color to an otherwise sterile desk.

But science is now telling us how and why portable plants can perk us up and actually make us more productive at work — up to 15% more productive than an office environment stripped clean of any greenery.

A new study coordinated by the University of Exeter monitored workers' productivity levels at two large commercial offices in the UK and the Netherlands. Over the course of several months, researchers analyzed the impact of "green" versus "lean" offices on workers' personal perceptions of air quality, concentration, and workplace satisfaction.

The green offices showed high marks across the board over the lean offices, which may be bad news for minimalist decorators.

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Lead researcher Marlon Nieuwenhuis from Cardiff University's School of Psychology suggested that "investing in landscaping the office with plants will pay off through an increase in office workers' quality of life and productivity."

The study found that workers in greened-up spaces were more engaged on several levels. Scattering plants throughout their office environment made them physically, cognitively, and emotionally more involved in their work. Beyond those workplace benefits, plants also lowered physiological stress and improved well-being in and out of the office.

So how can you put this to use in your own office? Choose plants that are grown purely as decorative houseplants, such as corn plants, ZZ plants, parlor palms, and peace lilies, as they typically have low light needs and tolerate a little neglect.

If your indoor air feels stagnant, fill your space with air-filtering plants that help absorb volatile organic compounds (VOCs) common in unventilated offices. (These compounds, if allowed to stick around, can produce what's known as "sick building syndrome.")

Among the NASA-tested and approved plants for filtering indoor air pollutants (like formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene) are chrysanthemum, Gerbera daisy, azalea, mother-in-law's tongue, heartleaf philodendron, elephant ear philodendron, weeping fig, spider plant, and Chinese evergreen (all of which can be found at local nurseries).

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