If you hate the lights in your office, you're not alone. A study conducted by the American Society of Interior Designers showed that 68 percent of employees were dissatisfied about the lighting situation in their offices. That's a large percentage of people across the country, indicating it's not a question of personal taste. It's a daily ergonomics issue.
Lighting is considered one of the most important factors in ergonomics, but too often this part of an office's design is overlooked, rushed, or sacrificed for style. After a while, you may notice quietly frustrated employees hauling in their own table lights and floor lamps to find the perfect blend of visual accuracy and not-so-corporate ambiance. You may have even been part of a group who hacked together shipping boxes to reduce screen glare from loft windows or overhead fluorescent lights.
It's no secret that dim lighting can strain the eyes and cause headaches, lowering productivity and resulting in employee fatigue. Dim lights also result in drowsiness or lack of focus.
Harsh lighting is a much more common culprit. It's just as harmful as dim lighting, causing eye strain and even triggering migraine headaches.
According to Leo Widrich, co-founder of Buffer, "Our cortisol levels drop significantly under artificial or poor lighting conditions. That means that we'll be more stressed, and have less ability to stabilize our energy levels."
One of the answers to bad lighting?
Natural light, of course.
Natural is best
Windows are the number one determinant of an employee's satisfaction with a building. Natural lighting not only affects how well we are able to see, but it can also boost our mood, energy level, and hormonal balance. It can reduce absenteeism, owing to fewer illnesses as well as less overwork fatigue, which means more time off for employees to recharge batteries. It can be as simple as opening the blinds, though glare on a computer screen has to be considered.
If your office doesn't have a lot of windows, consider the addition of a skylight or several.
A study in Sleep Journal compared workers in offices without windows with those with windows. The employees who had windows and natural light in their offices received 173 percent more white light exposure during work hours, and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night.
Get smarter with your lamps and lightbulbs
Lamps can provide indirect lighting and help reduce glare, and lights on dimmer switches can give more control of the kind of lighting a wide-open room enjoys. "Daylight" bulbs mimic natural lighting. To achieve a balance between natural and artificial light and to avoid shadows and glare, it is recommended to place lights parallel to the window and the workspace.
Use task lights closer to desks rather than relying on overhead lighting all day to help reduce your office energy consumption up to 67 percent. There are a lot of great task lights on the market that combine sustainable design, minimalist aesthetics, and LED or CFL sources for energy efficiency.
Resist the urge to embrace the latest trends of Edison bulbs and repurposed industrial light fixtures across areas of the office where employees will be working for long periods of time. For example, don't hang Edison bulbs over modular workstations. They look cool, but these bulbs won't get the job done and your employees will resent them. Instead, implement these trends where they'll have the most impact on your brand's social atmosphere or company culture: Common areas such as hallways, cafés, or reception are a good fit for this type of ambiance.
Reduce the annoying glare
For desktop or laptop work, well-distributed diffuse light is best. You'll enjoy fewer hot spots, or glare surfaces, in your line of vision. Plus the contrasts created by the shape of objects will often be softer.
One design trick is to use light, matte colors and paint finishes on walls. This reflects indirect lighting while reducing dark shadows and contrast.
Enjoy a return on investment
Effects on productivity and energy savings can pay for the cost of a lighting upgrade: In the late 1980s, the lighting systems in a U.S. post office in Reno, Nevada, were renovated to improve working conditions. According to the report, "The ceiling was sloped to enhance the indirect lighting, and to replace harsh direct downlighting. More efficient, longer-lasting lamps that gave off a more pleasant light quality were installed."
The upgrade resulted in energy savings of about $50,000 per year, but here's the key: Productivity began to exponentially rise after the first year of the upgrade. Mail sorters in the Reno post office were declared the most productive sorters in the western half of the country. Within mere months, machine operators had the lowest error rates. The return? This productivity increase was expected to boost revenue by approximately $500,000 per year.
If you haven't yet considered lighting ergonomics for your new office or expanding office design, pause and look around. Take note of whether your team is adjusting or having to settle for mediocre lighting or subpar fixtures. Not only will a design upgrade make your brand shine, it will have a major impact on your company's overall mood and creativity.