How to Increase Productivity: Utilize Natural Light
Feb 24, 2015
By: Lorna Collier
Most of us feel better in rooms where we can see outside — even when it’s cloudy — than we do in windowless spaces, lit only by fluorescents.
Research bears out the healthful effects of natural light, which can help us sleep better, have more energy and, not surprisingly, increase productivity.
For example, a recent study by Northwestern University and the University of Illinois found that people exposed to natural light at work slept longer, were more active and had a better quality of life than those who were exposed only to artificial light. Researchers credited the positive effect of natural light on circadian rhythms.
This study joins a host of others going back to the 1920s showing links between natural light and productivity measures like reduced absenteeism and stress. A 2012 study by Swiss researcher Mirjam Münch found natural lighting helped improve alertness and concentration.
So what can you do to get more natural light in your office?
Maria Papiez, sustainability lead at BBH Design in Raleigh, North Carolina, a sustainable architecture and design firm, offers some suggestions.
If you are in a naturally dark space, Papiez suggests using “daylighting” products like solar or light tubes or fiber optic cable systems to essentially bring the sunlight to you. These products build upon the skylight concept by soaking in the sun from the roof of your building, but they use smaller rooftop openings than skylights and carry the light deeper inside (tubes can go 20 to 30 feet deep, while fiber optic cables can reach 65 to 70 feet, plus can twist and bend).
These light sources can work with regular fixtures, but provide light that changes in color and intensity during the day, just as the sun does. "These are really the pieces that link it to circadian rhythm," says Papiez.
If you have window access, consider “light shelves,” which are flat panels that attach directly on window panes, above where you look out but below the very top of the window. The light that comes in above the shelf is directed to the ceiling, then bounced further into the room than it otherwise would be, says Papiez.
These work particularly well if you have southern or northern exposure, she notes.
Where possible, provide more indoor spaces with windows, such as a breakroom that’s placed in a sunny spot.
Don’t forget the great outdoors.
Employees should be encouraged to take breaks outside, when possible. But they also can work outside, too, notes Papiez.
Thanks to the increased mobility allowed by today's portable devices like laptops and tablets, many companies “are starting to make sure their Wi-Fi extends outside the building perimeter to make sure folks can take advantage of exterior environments to work in throughout the day,” says Papiez.
So, boost your range and provide tables and chairs outside where you and your employees can work, while soaking in rays of energy-giving natural light.
About the Author
Lorna Collier is a Chicago-area writer whose articles about business and technology have appeared in the AARP Bulletin, Intuit Small Business Blog, Workforce Management, Crain’s Chicago Business, CNN.com, USNews.com, the Chicago Tribune, and many others. Follow her on Twitter at @lornacollier.
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