Open offices have increased in popularity as a way to improve collaboration and literally tear down the walls between management and employees. It’s especially popular among tech companies and others with relatively flat organizational structures. However, open office plans come with their own set of challenges, the biggest of them including:
Increased noise levels, which can reduce cognitive performance by up to 44 percent
Increased competitiveness and pressure to interact
Lack of privacy
Overall sensory overload
With the amount of effort and expense that goes into an office redesign incorporating an open floor plan, companies are figuring out ways to address these issues with standalone solutions, such as plug-and-play phone rooms, sound-absorbing panels and mobile room dividers. Employees often adapt by using other resources like conference rooms, cafeterias, makeshift barriers or simply working from home.
Another solution? Plants. Living, breathing gifts from nature. We want to highlight a few ways that office plant services not only help to address these challenges in an open office floor plan, but also provide additional health and wellness benefits to employees. It’s a win-win.
Research shows that noise reduction is perceived when there is a visual barrier between the source of noise and the individual. One way to achieve this visual barrier is with a variety of carefully placed plants. Using plants as visual barriers has great benefits and offer a surface to absorb, deflect and interfere with noise.
Plants with large, fleshy leaves are more effective in scattering sound than small leaves because they have more surface area. The key here is to use enough plant material, which means grouping them together so there is coverage at various heights. Deeper levels of plantings that form a thicket will reduce more noise than singular plants placed by themselves. Similarly, having multiple groupings or “islands” of plants is more effective than a singular group as this offers more surface area to interact with sound.
To maximize the effectiveness of plants as noise barriers, location is also an important factor. It’s more effective to place the plants as close to the source of the noise as possible. For example, if sound is coming from a neighboring room, a particularly loud copy machine, or hard-surfaced walls, plants can be placed closer to the wall to absorb more sound waves before they disperse into the rest of the room. Moss walls can be an especially effective strategy in this case. They’re not only visually pleasing but also offer interesting design options to incorporate company logos and colors. Plus, they require no ongoing maintenance.
Open office plans often have several rows of desks facing each other with back-to-back monitors. These arrangements, while maximizing the use of space, can make for awkward social interactions and even reduced interactions. In this situation, innovative furniture products with built-in barriers are effective, although they may not be compatible with popular sit-stand desks. A bank of tall plants between desk rows is an excellent alternative or addition to these furniture products.
With only one foot of space between desks, we can fit tall plants (6-7’) with leaves that offer lush green barriers at both seated height and standing height. This proximity to employees is especially beneficial because it provides a high frequency of view to nature. Research shows that the biggest bump in benefit comes from the first 5 minutes of interacting with nature. So it follows that the closer the plants are to people, the more beneficial it is.
Other needs for visual barriers come from separating common areas for socialization from workspaces. For example, one would separate the kitchen or break room from desks and conference rooms. Grouping plants around areas that generate more noise and activity can be an effective strategy. Social areas tend to be even louder and active, so visual barriers are especially important in these settings.
In areas where egress and access are important, such as doors and windows, plants can be hung from the ceiling or placed onto shelves, trailing downward. The top of file cabinets and other hard-to-reach surfaces offer an additional opportunity for effective plantings without sacrificing valuable floor space.