How Natural Light Affects Productivity & Health
Workplaces with good light exposure saw as much as a 40% increase in productivity as well as a marked decrease in error rate.
When you think of good office design, what comes to mind?
“There are certain factors that everyone knows affect workplace productivity,” says Andrew Jensen, a business growth, efficiency and marketing consultant – location, aesthetics, size and space, and privacy, just to name a few. “But there is one important factor often overlooked by most employers across the globe: lighting.”
According to a study conducted by the American Society of Interior Design, 68 percent of employees are unhappy with the lighting in their offices, complaining it is either too dim or too harsh. This is detrimental for several reasons. First, dim lighting can make it difficult to read, causing eye strain and headaches. The eyes have to work much harder to focus. Dim lighting can also cause drowsiness – again decreasing productivity. Then there is harsh lighting. Fluorescent lighting, for example, has also been known to cause eye strain and even migraines.
The solution? Natural light.
The Benefits of Natural Light
According to a study published in The Responsible Workplace, windows are the number one factor in determining an occupant’s level of satisfaction with a building.
“Light is critical for our health and wellbeing,” says Dr. Victoria Revell, a chronobiologist at the University of Surrey. “Ensuring that we receive adequate light levels at the appropriate time of day benefits our alertness, mood, productivity, sleep patterns, and many aspects of our physiology.”
In fact, workplaces with good light exposure saw as much as a 40 percent increase in productivity as well as a marked decrease in error rate, according to statistics from Eco-Business. Workers in such offices also saw a 15 percent increase in creativity.
“These findings put scientific rigour behind our intuitive desire for daylight,” write Ash Buchanan, the director of sustainable design and well being at Cohere, and Juliana Sayago, a communication designer completing a Master of Environment at The University of Melbourne. “The business case is clear: daylight promotes human health and potential.”
Natural light exposure has even been shown to increase sleep and quality of life. According to “Impact of Workplace Daylight Exposure on Sleep, Physical Activity, and Quality of Life, “there is a strong relationship between workplace daylight exposure and office workers’ sleep, activity and quality of life. Compared to workers in offices without windows, those with windows slept an average of 46 minutes more per night.
“The architectural design of office environments should take into consideration how natural daylight exposure may contribute to employee wellness,” says Ivy Cheung, a Neuroscience doctoral candidate at Northwestern University.
It all comes down to quality of life and happiness, and natural light plays an important role. According to a study by Bright Horizons, employees with high morale are 89% more likely put in extra effort and extra hours at work. These findings were reinforced in a 2014 study – “Happiness and Productivity” – published in the Journal of Labor Economics. Researchers randomly assigned volunteers into two groups. Group A watched a funny video of a stand-up comedian while enjoying some free fruit and chocolate. Group B was shown a neutral video and was not treated to any special snacks. Then, both groups were asked to complete a series of timed math problems. The “happy” group, Group A, correctly completed between 10-12 percent more problems – a 12 percent spike in productivity.
“The extent to which daylight exposure impacts office workers is remarkable,” adds Cheung. However, natural light can also have a pretty significant side effect – glare.
In a study of 16 subjects, scientists found that glare has a negative effect on reading performance. And, as you can probably imagine, the more intense the glare, the slower the reading speed. In the workplace, this type of glare is most common on the computer screen. So how do you provide your employees with ample natural light while also minimizing glare?
Our Recommendation: Solar Shades
Not only do “window coverings add to the atmosphere and overall feel of the space,” according to Joshua Zinder, principal of Joshua Zinder Architecture + Design, LLC, but the right window treatments can also improve productivity. For example, Solar Shades help reduce glare without blocking natural light.
“The material is usually a vinyl mesh which is available in varying degrees of ‘open-ness,’” explains interior designer Mike Strutt. “The more open they are, the more light they let in, and the more you can see through (both in and out).”
These window treatments act like “sunglasses” for your windows, cutting glare, minimizing heat gain, and improving visibility all at the same time. That’s what we like to call a win-win.
"Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort."