Desk-based employees spend on average around 5 hours 45 minutes at their desk every day. The work environment is an increasingly popular topic as it is an integral part of employee experience. Of course, an environment that supports workers’ mood, cognitive function, wellbeing, and productivity will influence the bottom-line results (1).
Employees satisfied with the work environment can be 16% more productive and are 18% more likely to stay with the company longer. Nevertheless, around 80% of wellness programs have low effectiveness and show that employees are still in need of basic and yet essential things, including fresh air, the ability to personalise their space as well as to have control of lighting conditions (2). Having adequate lighting is the second most valued attribute after the fresh air. It also goes above the conditions such as having comfortable temperature, noise levels, access to drinking water, and office perks including healthy food choices and fitness facilities (2).
Light is core to how our vision works. It reflects from the objects around you and interacts with photoreceptors in your eyes that send signals to the brain to make sense of visual information (1). ‘Lux’ is a unit frequently used to measure light intensity for visual acuity (3). Also, our ancestral connection to nature makes the light a cue for activity or rest. The changes in light levels influence body’s melatonin level involved in regulation of circadian rhythm (4). This rhythm is crucial for healthy sleep and waking cycle, and the health of internal processes and organs such as the cardiovascular system (5).
In the natural world, daylight characteristics change as the day progresses, which is central to how our body’s internal clock regulates itself. It needs both times of bright light and darkness (3). Exposure to natural light has been associated with better emotional health and cognitive function (2, 5). Workers who get enough sunlight during the day are known to sleep better, making them more rested and productive during work hours. They feel less drowsy, have reduced incidence of headaches and eyestrain (6). According to HBR, 47% of employees said that absence of natural light makes them feel tired and 43% report feeling gloomy. Having natural light sources at the workspace also increases overall job satisfaction (1, 7). Besides, natural light is one of the three environmental components among the fresh air and temperature that can reduce absenteeism up to four days a year (2).
However, not everyone can benefit from natural light due to windowless environments or the architectural and design characteristics of an office or home. You are more likely to have a window with a view if you occupy the executive office, whereas if you are a lower-level employee, you may not even have access to natural light (1). It is recommended that at least 55% of the office space receives not less than 300 lux of daylight for at least half of the workday. For reference, the full daylight illumination is around 10,000 lux, and an overcast day is around 1000 lux. (Portable light meters and even phone apps are available on the internet to help you with the measurements!).
On the other hand, too much and uncontrolled light through your window can cause screen glare, and thus, it is important to find the right balance (8). Thankfully, while working from home, most people have more control over where their desk is located, and can make most of the natural light or combine it with artificial light as needed.
If your window comes with a good view, then that’s even better! A need for having a natural view is another ancestral thing that we retained. Having a connection with outside through a window view of any natural scenery also enhances your wellbeing and creativity by up to 15%, and raises productivity by up to 6% (8). Around half of employees say their work and wellbeing would improve if they had a nice view from the window (1). Interestingly, even patients in wards that have access to natural views recover quicker than others (5).
‘Artificial’ doesn’t always mean bad. Artificial light helps with illumination during dark hours, making it possible to continue daily tasks after sunset (4). If manipulated and utilized smartly, it can be of benefit for health and productivity. Bright artificial light that corresponds to the midday daylight parameters is used to treat depressive symptoms and seasonal affective disorder that involves anxiety, increased feeling of sadness, irritability, and lethargy (5). Moreover, LED light of certain wavelengths is used in aesthetic skin treatments (9).
It is important to consider the shade of the artificial lighting and the aim that it is used for. Cold shades such as blue and white light will boost your alertness and focus levels, positively affecting your productivity. Office spaces are frequently installed with a lighting system that has cold shades, which keeps the employees’ brains active. On the other hand, warmer shades of yellow light will make you less alert, and it is thought to promote social interaction and group work activities (5).
Colour temperature in Kelvins (K)
The problem with artificial lighting is that it stays uniform throughout the day, exposing you to just one spectrum, unlike in the case with natural light. Such prolonged exposure may lead to overly increased levels of stress hormone and can result in anxiety and nervousness, impacting productivity (5). Also, some artificial light systems such as fluorescent lamps emit light in a pulsing manner not visible to the human eye, and are more likely to contribute to eye-strain and trigger headaches (10).
In addition, the lighting intensity that is sufficient for the home environment may not be sufficient for productive work if you are working from home. Frequently, bedrooms are the least well-lit rooms in the house, with suggested comfortable light intensity of 50 lux (3). This is great for you when you want to wind down and prepare for sleep, but if over the lockdown you suddenly converted your bedroom into an office, this can be insufficient to keep you alert and productive. You should aim for at least 300 lux to be most effective when you work (3).
- Artificial light can have certain parameters that, if utilised smartly, can be a great benefit for productivity and health.
- Bright and cold shades of light increase alertness, and warmer yellow shades promote social interaction. Avoid prolonged exposure to cold shades of light.
- Make the most of natural light at home as it positively impacts your mood, health and productivity.