Over the next few months we’ll be doing a series of posts that discuss how office decor impacts employee productivity. We’ll be covering everything from lighting to paint colors to furniture arrangement in hopes of making every office a little bit more efficient...and pretty to look at! Let There Be Light! Everything in an office environment impacts a business’ employees; however, probably the factor that can have the biggest positive or negative effect is lighting. Whether employees, managers, and business owners realize it or not, lighting effects everyone in the office both emotionally and biologically. Unfortunately, this factor is often given the least amount of consideration during office design if not overlooked all together. Why is lighting ignored during office design and renovation? Well, for one, lighting can be a little hard to control - not every space can accommodate a window. In addition, if a business is simply leasing or renting a space the landlord may not allow the existing electric and lighting to be replaced. A second reason this factor may be overlooked is that a business owner may feel his or her money is better invested elsewhere. For instance, purchasing new office furniture or painting the walls and throwing up new art produces a visible return on investment. Employees and clients alike are sure to comment. Not to get too technical, but it produces a “wow-y” effect. If you spend that money to make the lighting more natural the change may not even be consciously noticed. However, everyone is sure to subconsciously notice. Without a doubt, the best light for your office is natural light. Open those blinds because natural lighting: • Prevents and decreases eyestrain - this is especially important in work environments where employees spend long periods of time staring at a computer screen. • Helps regulate our circadian rhythms - circadian rhythms play a role in human sleep patterns and can impact hormone release and body temperature. • Assist with the production of Vitamin D. • Is energy efficient and will save a business money. While natural lighting is important and should be used whenever possible, a business has to have a backup plan as well. Not every space can be perfectly illuminated by natural light. Even if an office is a glass cube and exposed to natural light at all times, the illumination provided isn’t always enough. What if an employee is working late? What about on cloudy days? When planning unnatural light, don’t just go with the first or cheapest option. It will be challenge, but try to find a balance between too much illumination and not enough. Too much illumination, such as bright overhead fluorescents, can cause: • Anxiety • Migraines • Stress Not enough illumination can cause: • Fatigue • Eyestrain • Poor posture None of this is going to lead to productive workers. One large problem you are likely to encounter is that some people work better with less light while others need a lot of light. So what can you do? First, don’t block windows. Don’t put furniture, plants, curtains. blinds, or people in front of windows Let that light in! However, make sure that blinds and curtains are available and functional as there may be certain times of the day (ex. sunrise or sunset) when employees need to dim the glare. Second, try providing employees with indirect lighting. Direct lighting is the more traditional approach where overhead lights shine down upon the employee with no diffusion. With indirect lighting (also sometimes referred to as “uplighting”), the light is directed at the ceiling or upper walls rather than down on the employee. This creates a dimmer, softer, and diffused lighting. Third, provide employees with their own personal light source such as a simple desk lamp. That way employees can give themselves extra light as needed, but don’t have to live it with all day. Fourth, when painting office walls consider avoiding paints with a glossy finish. Glossy finishes may produce a strong, eye irritating reflection. Instead go for matte finish paints. When designing or making over an office, don’t forget to consider lighting. Finding a balance between natural and unnatural light and between bright and dim light can be a challenge as every individual responds to light levels differently. However, its time (and money) well spent as improved lighting will improve productivity for everyone in the office.