Why Your Office Space Needs Natural Light

Autonomous Autonomous | Jul 15, 2019
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Plants need natural light to grow and be healthy. Human beings do too! If your office resembles a big, dark closet, then you’re risking the health of your employees and your business. Learn all the office design ways that natural light can revitalize your company.

This article is a part of the full guideline office design series:

Anybody that’s spent time working in a dimly lit office knows how great it feels when you step outside at lunch or at the end of the day. Looking up at the sky and feeling the sun on your face, you suddenly feel alive again. It’s a natural rush. And it’s no coincidence that you feel this way, it’s basic science.

Just like plants, humans need a certain amount of light to stay healthy. And not just any kind of light, but the real stuff.

With so much focus on implementing new tools and trendy designs to create the ultimate office space, the truth is that one of the most important factors in improving the mood and production of your employees is also one of the simplest: make sure they’re getting enough natural light.

Sleep better, feel better, work better

Your body’s biological clock runs on an internal system of what are known as circadian rhythms, which work on a roughly 24-hour loop, telling you when to sleep, wake and eat, among other things. If your body clock is all messed up, then you’re not going to feel very well. This is what happens when you’re badly jetlagged. You can’t sleep and you experience brain fog throughout the day as your body clock attempts to realign itself.

Natural light plays a huge role in keeping your body clock on time. At the end of the day, when the sun starts to set, the reduced natural light sets off a series of internal triggers that start to prepare the body to fall asleep. However, if you haven’t soaked up enough natural light that day, your system gets thrown off because your body doesn’t feel like it’s time for bed yet, regardless of the actual time.

This can lead to restless nights and sleep disorders, which isn’t good for your overall health. And sleepy employees are generally not the most productive employees, no matter how much coffee they fill their tank with.

Office design helps improve sleep habits

Researchers from Northwestern University in Chicago recently released a study titled, "Impact of Workplace Daylight Exposure on Sleep, Physical Activity, and Quality of Life”. It found that employees that worked in offices with windows received 173% more white light (equivalent to natural light) and got 46 minutes more sleep per night on average than employees that worked in offices without windows.

That’s more than 5 hours per week (279 hours per year!) more rest for your employees if they’re working in a naturally lit office space. There’s no telling what bright ideas might sprout up that could positively impact your company as a result of all that extra rest; ideas that otherwise might never see the light of day, so to speak.

Natural light lifts your mood

HR advisory firm, Future Workplace, recently performed a survey titled “The Employee Experience” wherein they polled more than 1,600 North Americans to get their thoughts on the impact of natural light and outdoor views in the workplace.

Meanwhile, 47% of respondents said they felt tired or very tired from the absence of windows and natural light. This is then compounded by workers spending so much staring at computer screens, which triggers an even stronger internal craving for sunlight. In the survey, 73% of respondents agreed that the longer they stared at those screens, the more they desired a visual break by taking a walk or looking out a window.

Healthy employees are productive employees

If you look around your office and notice a growing number of social butterflies who seem to be chatting more than they’re working, that might be another red flag that your office design isn’t conducive to getting work done.

Interacting with other people acts as a stimulator, often providing a natural energy boost when you’re feeling groggy. At home, you might rather just take a nap when you’re tired. But at work, that’s usually not cool. So instead you turn to your neighbor and ask if they watched Game of Thrones last night and next thing you know 30 minutes goes by and you haven’t finished your assignment.

A study by Professor Alan Hedge, Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell University, found that those working within 10 feet of a window had an 84% decrease in eyestrain, headaches, and blurred vision symptoms.

"...Optimizing the amount of natural light in an office significantly improves health and wellness among workers, leading to gains in productivity," Hedge said. "As companies increasingly look to empower their employees to work better and be healthier, it is clear that placing them in office spaces with optimal natural light should be one of their first considerations."

If employees can focus on their work without eye strain, headaches or blurred vision, maybe they won’t feel the urge to seek out a distraction for an energy boost.

If you consider all these factors, then add on the health benefits of some good old fashioned vitamin D, the evidence becomes pretty overwhelming that natural light is something you need to implement in your new office design.

4 bonus tips for window-challenged office spaces

Look, we get it, not all offices can magically transform into futuristic, heavenly workspaces. But, you don’t necessarily have to be revolutionary to make your office a healthier and more productive space.

For companies working in smaller spaces without enough windows to go around, here are a few additional ideas to help your employees see the light.

1. Different tones get different results

When buying ceiling lights for common areas and meeting rooms, consider the impact different color grades will have on alertness and performance, from cold blue lighting that invokes a feeling of alertness similar to that of a blue sky to warmer tones that lean more towards the calming effect of a sunset or campfire.

Staff at the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School put together a great graphic on this to help you find the right tone for the right space:

Source: https://onlinemba.unc.edu/blog/how-lighting-affects-productivity/

2. Go glass when you can

If you can afford a little renovation, implementing some glass walls can go a long way to helping outside light spread through the office rather than hitting the drywall of a closed room and staying trapped in there, only to be enjoyed by whoever is in that one room. It’s also worth noting that more natural light means you can save money on energy costs by not having to keep all the office lights on all day.

3. It’s time for a paint job

The right combination of paint colors can breathe a whole new life into your office and help to reflect and spread natural light rather than dim it out. For more on this idea, check out our post on how to color hack your office.

4. Get out of the office altogether!

On nice days, consider having meetings outside or walking with your team to a local coffee shop rather than just sitting in a manager’s office. Changing up the environment and encouraging staff to seek natural light on their own during breaks could do wonders, without spending a dime (except maybe on coffee at the local cafe).

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