Lighting the Way to a More Productive Workplace

Lighting is critical to promoting a healthy and productive work environment. If we think back to a time many, many moons ago when we were free from artificial lighting and computer screens, the human race managed its activities based on the natural patterns of sunlight.  When the sun came up, we went about our daily activities, and once it got dark, we went to sleep. This natural cycle harmonized perfectly with our bodies’ natural rhythms. With the introduction of artificial light, we were no longer limited by daylight – we can flip on our lights when it gets dark and carry on with our tasks, long into the night.  The issue with extending our days artificially is that by doing so, we are messing with our bodies’ circadian rhythms.  Research shows that when we do this, we increase our likelihood of fatigue, cancer, obesity, depression, diabetes, reduced physical and mental performance, reduced productivity, and more health issues.

Tell me more about Circadian Rhythms, you say! Your circadian rhythm is basically your body’s internal 24hr clock. You may notice that at different times of the day you feel more alert or drowsier – this is your internal clock swinging in regular intervals between awake and sleep. Not only does your circadian rhythm dictate your sleep patterns, but it can also influence other body functions such as hormone release, digestion, and eating habits. Your circadian rhythms are controlled by the hypothalamus (a portion of your brain), which receives light cues that dictate the release of melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy. For people who work during the day, the morning light signals to your brain that it’s time to get up, and darkness signals to your brain that it’s time to go to sleep.

So what can we do to help employees manage their circadian rhythms and promote wellness? With people spending upwards of 87% of their time indoors (BuildingGreen), most of us are just not getting the outdoor exposure that we need anymore.  We know that in order for employees to be productive and healthy, we need them to eat well, exercise, and get a good night’s sleep. So how can we support them throughout the day to achieve this goal? The answer, when it comes to lighting, is more daylight. The amazing thing about natural daylight is that it changes throughout the course of the day.  In the morning, natural light is bright and blue, and signals to us that it’s time to get up and be active.  Natural light in the evening turns warm and red, and signals to our body that it’s time to start getting ready to sleep.  The problem is that if we are exposed to blue light all day (in the form of fluorescent office lights, for example), and throughout the evening (from our tv’s and other screens), we are more likely to have our sleep cycles disrupted.

Customizing your current space to maximize daylight. When looking at your current workspace, if access to daylight is limited, consider using bulbs that are “blue-enriched”.  These bulbs are in the 17,000k range (see chart) and early studies suggest that employees felt happier and more alert when working under them (University of Greenwich). Ideally, workspaces should be configured to maximize all employees’ access to daylight, and it’s recommended to avoid placing people behind walls or barriers, in windowless offices, or in tall cubicles which prevent light from reaching them. For employees who work in darkness during the day, if it’s by choice, encourage appropriate task lighting, and if it’s unavoidable, encourage employees to take breaks and get outdoors as much as possible. Encouraging healthy light will increase productivity, and will make up for any time they spend away from their desk.

Set the mood. You can also cultivate spaces to encourage a specific type of feeling or outcome.  As the chart below shows, using warm light in a small break-out room can encourage creativity and a feeling of calm.  Using mid light in a conference room will keep people alert, yet still comfortable.

Embrace new technology. The exciting thing is that with so much current research in this area, coupled with technical advancements in the lighting industry, we are entering a time where we can design office lighting specifically to follow the natural cycle of daylight.  Lights can be programmed at work to shift throughout the day to match the natural cycle found outdoors.  There are also lamps for home and office that, with a simple switch, can be changed from warm to cool as well as apps that will adjust your screens to emit a warmer light in the evenings. If you are in the midst of looking for a new space or designing a new office space, I encourage you to explore the many lighting options available to you, and to seek workspaces with access to natural daylight throughout.

For additional information on lighting, as well as other workplace factors that affect productivity, we encourage you to get in touch with us. Our goal is to help you create a healthy, engaging and productive workplace for your team – so let us get to work for you.

Crystal Roche

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