Why Natural Light is Conducive to Great Work

Bringing in the outdoors provides physical and emotional benefits

Would you be surprised to learn that the perk employees clamor for more than any other is natural light?

Access to natural light and views of the outdoors beat out prized benefits like free food, gyms, and on-site childcare, according to the “Employee Experience” survey of 1,614 North American employees, conducted by Future Workplace, an HR advisory firm.

Nearly 80 percent of employees say access to natural light and views improves their well-being, according to the study detailed in the Harvard Business Review. That’s not surprising when you consider its health benefits, including protecting vision, boosting Vitamin D, and enhancing mood.

Improved Performance and Well-Being
Research also shows that people who have a view to the outdoors perform better and accomplish tasks more quickly than those with little access to natural light.

“From an evolutionary perspective, humans are designed to be spending most of our lives outdoors and so our bodies are attuned to that."
—Rachel Cash, Haworth Associate Workplace Business Consultant

One study reported in the Ergonomics International Journal found workers exposed to natural light in an office reported more than a 50 percent reduction in eye strain, headaches, and incidents of drowsiness compared to those who didn’t.

Not Just for Management
Traditionally, natural light has been a perk of the management, who occupy the offices with large windows, leaving the artificially-lit interior space for lower-level employees. Addressing this workplace inequality, some European Union countries have changed their national building codes to require all employees have proximity to windows.

Despite the growing evidence and demand for natural light, there are still a lot of workers who crave more light.

One-third of respondents in the Future Workplace study say they don’t get enough natural light in the workplace, resulting in the workers feeling tired and depressed.

“We all know that people are willing to pay premiums for a vista, whether that's in their home or in their office or hotel room or whatnot,” Cash said. “Being that we spend 90 percent of our time indoors—especially those of us who are located in colder climates—we want to try to bring the outdoors indoors as much as possible. And you can do that through natural light.”

Let Light In
Natural light can be extended into the interior of buildings using lower workspace panels or panels with either translucent material or slats throughout. This offers a level of privacy while increasing access to natural light.

At the other end of the spectrum, floor-to-ceiling windows can bathe an office in natural light, but can also create an issue with glare. One solution is the use of electrochromic glass, which works like transition eyeglasses, shifting from clear to shade, depending on the intensity of the light during the day. Another option is low-E glass, which reduces glare through a UV-resistant coating, while providing energy-efficient insulation from outside temperatures.

Beyond the Light
More simple ways to pull the outdoors indoors include adding foliage and water elements, which can also provide natural sound masking. Wood furniture and accent décor impart the warmth of nature, creating a comfortable atmosphere where people can do their best work. Or simply furnish a patio to create an outdoor social space where people not only have direct access to daylight, but also a breath of fresh air as they work, connect, or just recharge.

For more ideas, check out 10 Ideas to Design for Workplace Zen or read more about working outdoors in A Different Path for Thinking.

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