Now that the summer solstice has passed (21 June) and our days of sunlight are becoming shorter, there’s less opportunity to finish work and grab a few of those last remaining rays. Employers can counter this by maximising their workers’ exposure to natural light, or in the absence of any natural light, bringing the ‘outdoors’ inside.
And there are obvious benefits from a productivity and health perspective: the World Green Building Council suggests workers with outside views are likely to be 25% more productive and process calls 12% faster. Those exposed to natural light increase productivity by 18% and better lighting in general pushes up work rates by 23%.
On the health side, it’s widely recognised sun deprivation can be harmful, leading to depression, disturbed sleep, obesity and even cancer. The Royal Society says inadequate lighting in the day – especially inside buildings – coupled with over exposure to artificial light in the evening disrupts sleep patterns and alters your metabolic, hormonal and genetic balance.
Leeson Medhurst, workplace consultant from Fourfont Group, offers his top tips for making up for what we are now starting to miss:
Lighting consistently ranks in the top 10 most important workplace physical features for employees according to the Leesman Index, the world’s largest workplace satisfaction benchmarking tool, but just 57 per cent of employees are satisfied with the amount of natural light in their offices. Offices that benefit from some natural light often reserve these areas for meeting rooms and client-facing spaces, leaving staff to work in the ‘back office’. Employers should seat staff next to windows. Create meeting, break-out areas and socialising space in atriums and consign storage facilities to dark corners.
Make a statement
If areas of natural light cannot be occupied by people, turn them into a central focus point; hang murals, graphics of your brand, images of iconic open spaces - anything that reflects and draws attention to those shafts of light shining through.
Put on the shades
A comfortable workspace is all about empowerment and while it’s great to maximise what’s outside, ensure rays, if necessary, can be toned down with window blinds. Squinting at a screen affects your posture (hunched up shoulders) as well as your eyesight.
Adjust the lux
People do a variety of tasks in an office from reading and writing, to meeting people and using computers all of which require different levels of light. But 55 per cent of people are not satisfied with their office lighting, according to the Leesman Index. From a light perspective, ensure your lux levels are appropriate for those who need to read as well as look at a screen. When offices were paper-based, a high level of lighting for document reading (1000 – 1500 lux) was required. Monitors need four to five times less light (300 – 500 lux). Provide lighting for both; adjustable task lighting for reading and low ambient lighting for screens. You’ll give workers the lighting boost they need upon demand, something particularly welcomed by older employees who require more light.
A sensory approach
Use daylight sensors to synchronise internal ambient and external lighting to what’s happening outside. This ensures optimum use of the lights as they adjust to external conditions.
Get in the mood
Consider mood enhancing lighting - colour changeable down lighters or floor-based LED lighting. Ensure the air-conditioning gives a subtle flow of air, creating an outdoor feel.
Bring the sunlight in
Install desk-based daylight lamps – they simulate natural daylight with their white light. Also consider putting a light therapy box near workstations, it will combat the symptoms of SAD (Seasonally Adjusted Disorder), giving off a bright light that mimics outdoor light. A box typically produces between 2,500 and 10,000 lux, replicating a bright summer’s day. Use from autumn to spring.
If there’s access to outside, maximise it; Google’s new UK headquarters will have a running track and a swimming pool on the roof. On a smaller scale perhaps there’s space for some hedges and outdoor seating. If space is at a premium- which is so often the case with offices – use workplace design to maximise what you have; one company converted a car park into an office and included light wells to allow natural light to flood in.
Employers cannot create natural light when it isn’t there, but their workspace design can maximise the space available and create an illusion of natural light and being outdoors.