Natural light is intrinsic to our well-being. It is instinctive and one of our primal needs as human beings to be outdoors and to be exposed to its elemental properties. Natural light offers an abundance of benefits. In this piece, we’ll look at how natural light in the workplace can positively impact employees, and how we can maximise the use of natural light through effective office design.
We thrive on natural light but have created a world in which we spend much of our time indoors where access to it is limited. As office designers, our objective is to stem this flow and to create workplaces that embrace natural light. But why is there such a focus on sunlight in the workplace, and what are the actual benefits?
Natural light in the workplace
The Harvard Business Review recently published a piece citing a piece of research that found that access to natural light is the number one attribute workers want in their office environment. This is supported by a YouGov study which we conducted last year which found that 1 in 3 office workers want better access to natural light in the workplace.
Additional research has found that natural light is vital for our wellbeing and can make us feel happier and more content. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Well-being is not just about feeling good, it is also about functioning well, and evidence shows that these elements overlap. Happier people are more energetic, more creative, better problem-solvers, and interact with others more effectively. When they have better access to natural light it can help facilitate these outcomes.
Another study related to workplace wellbeing and specific to exposure to natural light found that people who sit by the window slept for 46 minutes longer a night on average compared with those who didn’t.
Of course, workplace wellbeing is about far more than just access to natural light and our team have another article entirely focused on the relationship between office design and workplace wellbeing.
Productivity | Natural Light in the workplace
People are both a company’s greatest asset and biggest expense and as such, it is critical that this resource is managed for optimum productivity, efficiency and sustainability. It stands to reason that better rested, happier people are more productive but there is also a strong, irrefutable link between increased productivity and greater exposure to natural light in the workplace.
Exposure to natural light can improve concentration and short-term memory, which in turn leads to obvious benefits in relation to performance at work. Studies show that productivity can increase by up to 20% when companies move to buildings with improved natural light and added to this, absenteeism tends to fall in organisations that understand and act on the importance of daylighting.
Furthermore, there is strong evidence that companies with aspirational workplaces, where staff want to work (and remember they crave natural light), fare better when it comes to attracting and retaining the very best talent.
There are many possible reasons for the connection between natural light and productivity, but one may be that exposure to light and dark regulates the human body clock and our daily rhythms, and in simplistic terms, light = more alert, and dark = sleepy/drowsy. There is also the added knowledge of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons and an increase in exposure to darkness during the winter months. Now flipping this around, greater access to natural light can have the opposite effect.
Other benefits of natural light
Outside of the workplace, natural light has been shown to help patients recover faster and a famous study from 1984 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, suggested that post-operative hospital patients with a nature view take fewer painkillers and recover faster than patients without a view.
In relation to education, numerous articles highlight the connection between natural light and improved academic performance. Consequently, this has increased the focus on school and university design, with a view towards making these spaces as learning-friendly as possible.
Put simply, natural light can have a massively positive impact in not only the workplace but also in healthcare and learning institutions.
Designing natural light into the workplace
As office designers, we must strive to incorporate as much natural light as possible into the workplace, and while this can be a complex task, depending on the building and space in question, we can endeavour to implement simple improvements such as:
- Positioning workspaces and key areas close to windows and natural light is critical – don’t position spaces not used regularly in positions of optimum light.
- Incorporate smart technology to ensure natural light works in tandem with artificial LED lighting to decrease energy usage while also optimize indoor lighting
- Utilize outdoor spaces like rooftops and garden spaces as workspaces, usable in good weather offering staff an opportunity to work outdoors, hist meetings or simply have lunch
There is a lot more that can be considered and implemented as a means of maximizing natural light in the workplace, but these factors are a good place to start and to build on.
We hope that we’ve outlined the numerous benefits that natural light can offer to workplaces and also a glimpse into how it can be designed into the workplace and prioritized as an office design must-have, and if you would like to talk more about we can help create a workplace packed with natural light we’d love to hear from you.