“Let the Light In” to Boost Happiness + Productivity

By | September 15th, 2016|Productivity, Wellbeing, Workplaces|

Office workers exposed to more light at the office had longer sleep duration, better sleep quality, more physical activity and better quality of life compared to office workers with less light exposure in the workplace, reports a study by Northwestern Medicine and the University of Illinois. Other research finds that access to natural light makes employees not only happier, but more productive, according to Health, wellbeing and productivity in offices: The next chapter for green building a report by The World Green Building Council and JLL.

Interestingly, it’s not just about light. It’s about the ability to see outside. “What we hear again and again from clients is that people want to see outside,” said Jennifer Carpenter, of Jennifer Carpenter Architect, who designs workspaces for corporations and institutions. “They want to watch the light change during the course of the day.”

Managers Sacrifice Their Windowed Offices

There was a time when senior managers had offices on the perimeter with windows and access to natural light. Although the C-suite still sometimes does that, more and more managers’ offices are being moved into the core of the overall office layout. “This gives daylight to the majority of workers,” said Carpenter.

It may surprise you that, in a world in which real estate costs are escalating, the trend is now to increase the size of managers’ offices. In part, it’s compensation for being moved to the interior. But more importantly, it’s to make better use of managers’ offices that are quickly doubling as meeting spaces for their teams. Instead of being given smaller offices with one or two guest chairs, they’re given larger offices so that space can be used for collaborating. With a small conference table or seating group, teams can use the space when managers are traveling or at other meetings.

This reconfiguring of the overall office layout ensures that more people get the benefits of daylight. However, bear in mind that “daylight from side windows almost vanishes after 20 to 25 feet from the windows,” says co-lead author Mohamed Boubekri, an associate professor of architecture at the University of Illinois.

Share and Share Alike

We live in a sharing economy. We share cars, houses and bikes. We also share light and views. That’s right! The folks who are still lucky enough to have window offices now share their good fortune with others through a variety of strategies:

  • Glass walls maximize daylight and view sharing. It can also make those with a glass-walled office feel like they’re in a fishbowl.
  • Opaque glass walls allow light, but not detailed images, to pass through. Depending on how much you want to spend, you can apply a film (which is less expensive) or have the glass etched.
  • Clerestory or transom windows are above eye level. They admit light into the interior of the overall office but allow the manager to have privacy. 

Vampires and Coders Like the Dark

With all the benefits of daylight, you’d think that everyone would want to get some. “Ninety percent of workers want light and views,” said Carpenter. But some don’t. Coders, for example, like darkness. The glare and reflection of light on their computer screens is a distraction that harms their coding ability. However, even coders can reap the benefits of daylight.  “There are sun control and shading devices,” said Carpenter, “which allow the benefits of daylight without the drawbacks.”