Which environment would you rather work in— a dim basement or an office with plenty of natural light? Regardless of which you prefer, we can all agree that each setting has its own effect on our mindset and that lighting in general plays a major role in our daily productivity. In one UK survey of 7,000 office workers, 80% reported that workspace lighting was important to them, yet 2 in 5 struggle with uncomfortable lighting every day. The brightness, color temperature, and placement of the lights in a room can affect how we perform our work.
In this guide, we’ll describe the various nuances of lighting, why lighting is so important, and how you can use lighting to your team’s advantage.
Health Effects of Office Lights
Have you ever worked indoors for a long period of time, and then walked outside to feel the sunlight? In a matter of seconds, your physical and mental wellbeing can change drastically. That’s because lighting isn’t just about aesthetics, it can have a profound impact on one’s health.
One of the most immediate effects of light is on our eyes. If you’ve ever worked on a computer late at night, you’re probably familiar with eye strain. Prolonged eye strain can also bring about fatigue, headaches, and even intense migraines. If you happen to work in dim or dark environments, consider downloading an application like f.lux, which adjusts the lighting of your screen to match the time of day. It may just help with your sleep cycle and “social jet lag” (the discrepancy of your sleep between workdays and off days).
Lighting also affects you mentally. Many individuals around the world suffer from seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that starts in fall and lasts throughout winter. It’s widely believed that the lack of natural daylight disrupts one’s body, leading to the feeling of depression. Light therapy can be the most effective treatment against SAD.
How Light Affects Productivity
In a study by Northwestern University, researchers found that workers in windowed offices received 173% more white light exposure and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night. The workers without windows scored lower on quality of life measures linked to physical problems and daytime dysfunction. It’s safe to say that lighting leads to a better quality of life, which leads to better work performance.
Lighting, mood, and productivity are all connected. To understand how lighting affects mood, try this thought experiment. Consider working in an office with warm and ample lighting. Now imagine the same environment but with harsh white light, the same you would find in an airport. Which one makes for a more comfortable work environment? Which one brings you more focus? The answer is bound to be subjective, but there’s no denying that different lights have different effects on mood and potentially increase job satisfaction.
Depending on the nature of the work, lighting can also lead to a decrease in work accidents. It’s no coincidence that workers in manufacturing, healthcare, and transportation all require well-lit environments to carry out their tasks safely. Lighting can bring greater awareness, and bring greater attention to important processes and mechanisms (such as operating a potentially dangerous machine).
Types of Office Lights
If you’re interested in better understanding office lighting or want to change the lighting around to your team’s preference, you must first understand the different types of lighting. Each one uses a different kind of technology with advantages and disadvantages.
LED stands for light-emitting diodes, and are becoming more popular and affordable. Compared to fluorescent lights, LEDs are far more energy-efficient, can yield more light (lumens) and don’t use mercury, a toxic ingredient in many fluorescent lamps. While the initial cost can be steep, the savings can be made back through its low-watt usage. Some LED lamps can also change color like the Philips Hue lights controllable via an app.
Fluorescent lights use low-pressure mercury vapor gas to produce light. They are more energy-efficient than traditional bulbs (not quite as efficient as an LED) but are also potentially toxic if they crack or shatter. Fluorescent lights can come in warm or white variations, but the most common types are the long rods found in garages or hospitals.
The brightest, longest-known light source known to humans: the sun! Although not a bulb or lamp per se, sunlight can be just as influential in one’s health and mindset. Other environmental elements can help enhance natural light within a space, such as mirrors, bright colors, and large windows.
Lights Around the Office
With the different types of lighting in mind, you can better customize your office to fit your team’s needs. In addition to the type of lighting, consider the lighting color temperature— whether to use warmer colors (red and orange tones, similar to a living room) or daylight colors (bright white, like a hospital).
Warm lights – Warm lighting is ideal for spaces with a sense of comfort and relaxation. These include break rooms or recreational rooms for your team to let off some steam, or waiting areas for guests.
Cool white lights – Cool white refers to a bright light with a slight blue hue. You may notice them in some showrooms or bathrooms. These lights are great for conference rooms where people need lights to stay alert but without the harsh intensity.
Natural white lights – Somewhere between warm and cool lights is a bright white tone, similar to daylight colors. This type of lighting is great for brainstorm rooms, particularly in artistic fields, where it is important to show the true color of an object or design.
Regarding which you should choose between cool white, warm light, and daylight, the answer depends on the room in which the light will be installed. Warmer colors are great for cozier settings, for creating a sense of comfort, or for photo opportunities (people’s skin tones look better in warm lighting). On the other hand, cool white colors are more suitable for more practical applications, such as design or manufacturing.
Other Factors that Influence Productivity
As one can imagine, lighting isn’t the only factor that influences a person’s productivity. Other aspects of a worker’s environment can play an equally important role, such as accessibility to food and water. Having nearby restaurants or a kitchen for snacks can be helpful for quick bites. The hungrier a team is, the less likely they can produce quality work.
Another crucial environmental factor: temperature. Throughout the day, it’s not uncommon for a coworker to bring up the temperature of the room. If a room is too hot or too cold, it becomes difficult to focus on the task at hand. Providing air conditioning in the summer and heating during the winter is vital to operational efficiency.
Besides physical factors, company incentives like employee wellness programs can also impact an employee’s overall motivation. Fitness classes, financial counseling, gym reimbursement, are just a few examples of programs your company can implement.
The most important aspect to remember is to treat your employees with dignity and respect. All your cultural and environmental solutions should work to support and empower your teams, so they can continue to work without sacrificing their wellbeing. How can you set your team up for success and greater productivity?
Personalization can be just as important as office lighting in terms of driving productivity. Read our post on decorating your space for inspiration. If you’re interested in cultivating a healthier environment, read this post. And finally, check out these tips for creating an engaging workplace.