The infamous buzz of fluorescent office lighting has always annoyed office dwellers. But studies show that harsh or insufficient lighting is more than just annoying; it can actually hurt job performance. Technology means today’s offices bask in the glow of computer monitors, competing with traditional overhead systems and causing eye strain and visual discomfort.
Not only do old lighting systems consume more energy (and more of the operating budget), but bad lighting can dramatically affect office productivity–even in a home office. By contrast, studies show that morale improves, eye strain is reduced, and employee safety is higher in properly lit environments.
Take the 1986 case study of the Reno, Nevada Post Office. The $300,000 renovation rid the facility of harsh, traditional downlighting and adopted more energy-efficient, indirect lighting. Besides the obvious energy savings (about $50,000 per year), the Post Office discovered that employees were significantly more productive and their error rate dropped to the lowest in the region. Workplace productivity rose to the tune of $400,000 to $500,000 annually, completely covering the cost of the renovation.
The fact is, the psychology of lighting has practical effects on a business’ bottom line.
Natural light plays a key role in keeping people awake and alert. Studies show that the presence of windows can dramatically impact people’s workplace satisfaction because sunlight impacts moods as well as visual comfort. Daylight directly influences melatonin production, which affects how alert a person will be on the job. Bright daylight also provides a good source of ambient light until the afternoon, so people need not squint into their work. Open the blinds or install shades that let the light stream in.
Balance natural light sources with artificial ones that will keep the brightness level high as the afternoon wears on. Install dimmer systems or a daylight monitoring system with artificial lights so the necessary brightness can be adjusted throughout the day as needed. Lighting that’s too harsh–such as the traditional fluorescent overhead–will feel overbearing in most spaces. While people are attracted to ambient brightness, they don’t enjoy feeling like they’re at the center of a spotlight.
Instead of direct downlighting, focus ambient lighting on the walls or upwards with track lighting or other directed fixtures. An evenly lit room without harsh overheads is simply more pleasant to work in. Walls and ceilings help bounce light around, diffusing its strength without compromising visual comfort. Bright walls also lessen the contrast between a computer screen and its surroundings to reduce visual fatigue. This technique can even improve posture, since workers don’t have to contend with screen glare by shifting position.
Even in a large space, each individual’s lighting needs should be provided for. Good ambient light will help everyone, but layer task lighting into each workspace to account for personal differences. For instance, older eyes require more light for the same tasks, but are more sensitive to glare. Flexible desk lamps with adjustable heads can direct light exactly where it’s needed and give each worker personal control.
The light sources in an office affect more than how well employees see their surroundings; it can fundamentally affect how they view their work and how they perform it. That makes good lighting not just a bright idea, but a smart investment in your company’s future.