Employees are like plants. They love sunshine.

In a study published in the Harvard Business Review, access to sunshine topped a list of the best perks a company can offer, beating out things like on-site cafeterias, on-site fitness centers and on-site childcare.

The study, which was conducted recently, polled 1,614 North American employees, who rated access to natural light and views of the outdoors as the most important perks that companies can offer.

In addition to being the best perk, according to respondents, a lack of natural light actually hurts performance, with employees polled saying:

  • Over one-third of them feel they don't get enough natural light at work.

  • 47 percent of them saying they feel fatigued at work due to the absence of natural light.

  • 43 percent of them feeling gloomy because of the lack of natural light.

The undeniable connection between employee well-being and access to natural light has been documented in a Cornell University paper that says employees who worked in offices with optimized natural light saw a:

  • 51 percent drop in eye strain incidence.

  • 63 percent drop in headaches among employees.

  • 56 percent reduction in reported drowsiness by employees.

Companies like Amazon and Airbnb have already been playing with the designs of their office spaces to give all employees access to natural light. In some European Union countries, access to natural light for employees is mandated in building codes.

Clearly this is something on people's minds. But, since small businesses don't have Amazon money, the question becomes; what can a small business do to give employees more access to natural light while on a budget?

Here are six ideas you can try to get more light into employees' lives:

1. Tinker with your office layout.

Obviously there are only so many ways you can set up your office. Not everyone can be beside a window, but if you try a few different layouts, you might find one that maximizes the available sunlight for everybody.

Put a couple of couches in a sunny area of the office and let employees use them at will. In our office, we have three different areas where people can take their laptops and sit. When I see people working in these areas, which are all by large windows, they all seem to be more focused. It also gives them the opportunity to have different "office neighbors" so they aren't always around the same people.

2. Encourage laptops

Laptop usage should be encouraged so people are not chained to their desks with desktop computers. Obviously, some types of jobs require a bit more computing power that only a desktop can provide, but for those who can do work on a laptop, this is an excellent way to let them get more sunshine into their day, especially when you couple it with the aforementioned strategically placed couches.

3. Allow for remote working

A classic solution, giving people the chance to work from home or from wherever they choose some of the time will allow them access to all the sunlight and outdoor views they could want. You can also try this within your office with the aforementioned couches, but also by designating the board room or other meeting rooms, which usually have large windows, as general working areas at certain times.

4. Promote walking on lunch breaks

Even a walk around the block does wonders to clear one's head during the workday. Encourage employees to get out and about at lunchtime and get some fresh air and get their eyes off a screen for a bit.

I've written before about how a shared meal in the office can help employees bond. Why not have one of these meals outside if it's practical? I encourage employees who are having meetings with just a few people and no presentations involved to have "walking meetings" outside. This gets them out of the office and enjoying the outdoors while still holding their sessions. Get your top management doing it and lead by example.   

5. Ban the blinds

If you can afford it, you can invest in some smart windows, which alter themselves throughout the day to optimize natural light and allow employees to reduce computer glare. Obviously this is on the higher end of cost, but it's something to think about.

We had skylights installed to give people more natural light and it has made our space cozier.

6. Do it with design

If you are in a position to design and build your own building, make natural light and outdoor views two of your top priorities. A business that has made it this far would do well to invest in their employees (who are the business, after all) to keep growing and succeeding. Giving them lots of natural light (and the occasional watering) will go a long way toward doing that.

Published on: Sep 25, 2018