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Updated Apr 04, 2024

Flick of a Switch: How Lighting Affects Productivity and Mood

Lighting can have a significant effect on your workplace. Learn how to make the most of what you have.

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Sean Peek, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
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Lighting — the good, the bad, and the ugly — can significantly impact employees’ mental health, and the amount and type of lighting in your office can dramatically alter their performance.

In fact, adequate lighting has been found to decrease depression and improve mood, energy and alertness. Here’s how businesses can design their workspaces with lighting that delivers the optimal place for employees to think, create and collaborate.

How lighting impacts workplace productivity

To learn more about the costs associated with not addressing lighting issues in the workplace, we turned to HOK, a top global design firm. Here are three examples of HOK-designed lighting projects that have provided conducive lighting for a productive workplace.

Workers prefer to control their own lighting.

According to Emily Dunn, a former senior consultant based in HOK’s New York office, employees prefer to adjust their lighting based on their sensitivity and needs. This ability increases workers’ productivity.

“We have found, based on the work that we have done, that control of an environment, whether it be lighting or temperature, helps people feel better about their perceived productivity,” Dunn said.

HOK installed energy-efficient windows in its building that provide natural light and allow employees to dim the electric lighting system in their workstations and multi-occupant stations.

Bottom LineBottom line
Lighting flexibility allows employees to create an optimal atmosphere that improves productivity.

Daylight enhances human performance.

HOK incorporated daylight features to help employees regulate their circadian rhythms. When these rhythms are offset, employees experience stress. Stress and productivity don’t mix. However, a building that incorporates daylight can enhance human performance.

Lighting design creates ambience.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to lighting in the workplace. According to Tom Kaczkowski, HOK’s lighting director, lighting design “depends on the atmosphere that we are trying to create within the work environment.”

When King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia wanted its interior to promote team innovation and creativity, HOK delivered by tailoring each space to its intended use. For example, the conference space was situated in a “shaded, passively cooled outdoor concourse” with a hint of sunlight to produce an inviting environment that kept workers alert. The academic library, designated as a room to keep people relaxed, was fitted with warm lighting to instill a sense of comfort.

Smart organizations know enhancing their team’s performance keeps companies growing and actively innovating.

FYIDid you know
Thoughtful lighting design can be a powerful tool to improve organizational performance. There are actual costs associated with not addressing lighting issues at work, which could be addressed with a simple bulb change.

How to improve lighting in your company office 

Many employees spend eight-plus hours at the office, so an intelligently lit workspace can significantly impact their overall health and productivity. Creating an environment that heals instead of adding to employees’ stress and fatigue will help your company achieve business goals and help your employees realize their career goals. 

Here are a few ways to improve lighting in your company office:

1. Create your own natural lighting.

Many offices lack natural lighting. There aren’t enough windows, the building doesn’t face the right direction, or the hours don’t allow for natural light.

To correct fluorescent eye strain, use 17,000 K blue-enriched lightbulbs. Blue light can increase alertness by lowering melatonin. Benefits include increased productivity, reduced fatigue, and improved employee engagement and idea-sharing.

Did You Know?Did you know
Even after adjusting your office lighting, you may still get unwanted glare from stark white walls. Use warm-toned neutral paint on the walls to reduce harsh light reflections and help employees feel calmer.

2. Consider individual light therapy.

Different employees may have different lighting needs due to their office location or personal sensitivity. If your business has individual offices or a cubicle-style setup, individual light therapy could be an inexpensive way to make everyone happy.

LED light therapy lamps, whether manually adjusted or through Wi-Fi, can be placed on each desk. To customize their space, the worker can choose the lighting that most helps their productivity. Most light therapy lamps are portable, so you can take the lights with you if you reconfigure the space or relocate your office.

Of course, if you have an open office plan, individual light therapy can be trickier. Still, light therapy lamps at specific workstations may help if everyone is in agreement.

3. Invest in technology.

While changing office lightbulbs to LED and using natural light will save you money, there are other ways to recoup your investment. Various lighting options can increase office productivity and comfort, from sensors to Wi-Fi control. Try the following technology when upgrading your lighting system:

  • Motion sensors: Light is emitted when workers are in the room and automatically turned off when no movement is detected.
  • Timers: If you have set office hours automatically, use timers to shut off lights. This will help motivate employees to complete their work on time and save money when the office is closed.
  • Smart lights: A program adjusts light temperatures throughout the day using your smartphone or lighting hub to keep workers alert and engaged.
FYIDid you know
Other environmental issues in the office to be aware of and monitor include air quality, noise and workplace ergonomics.

How to improve your home office’s lighting

With so many businesses implementing remote work plans, creating a productive home office environment is crucial. Here are some steps you can take to improve your home office lighting situation:

1. Utilize your room’s natural light first.

Before you charge ahead and fill your room with as many colorful lights as you can, look around and identify ways to make the most of the room’s windows — if it has them. Windows can provide abundant natural light, which is much easier on human eyes and incorporates the world outside your room. Additionally, more natural light around your work desk can help you concentrate on your various tasks more effectively. You’ll also reduce any clutter in your room caused by unnecessary lights.

2. Add overhead lights.

While natural light is ideal for any space, it can’t always fill an entire room. This is where overhead lights come in handy. Placing overhead lights in otherwise dark corners or spaces in your office will help lift the mood and create a more welcoming ambiance. This will keep you alert and focused on your work rather than dreary and unable to concentrate.

3. Purchase bright desk lights.

There’s nothing quite like a trusty, classic desk lamp. These lights’ primary function is to bring your gaze into focus. Tread lightly, however. Relying solely on a practical desk lamp without substantial overheads and natural light to bolster it will quickly strain your eyes, leaving your urgent, work-related tasks incomplete.

4. Finish with backdrop lighting.

Eye strain can seriously affect those who do not fully light their rooms. This is especially true in the digital age, as we work on computers and mobile devices that produce lighting that leaves something to be desired. Ambient light can alleviate the strain from computer and phone screen lighting while offering a welcoming space for employees to work.

Julie Thompson contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

author image
Sean Peek, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
Sean Peek co-founded and self-funded a small business that's grown to include more than a dozen dedicated team members. Over the years, he's become adept at navigating the intricacies of bootstrapping a new business, overseeing day-to-day operations, utilizing process automation to increase efficiencies and cut costs, and leading a small workforce. This journey has afforded him a profound understanding of the B2B landscape and the critical challenges business owners face as they start and grow their enterprises today. In addition to running his own business, Peek shares his firsthand experiences and vast knowledge to support fellow entrepreneurs, offering guidance on everything from business software to marketing strategies to HR management. In fact, his expertise has been featured in Entrepreneur, Inc. and Forbes and with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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