Using natural light to create healthier offices
Years ago, it became a trend that ‘less is more’ and many architects took this quite literally. Architectural designs were stripped way back to achieve a modern, minimalist style mainly using concrete as a building material. With the popularity of Brutalist architecture came a style that saw monolithic and blocky geometric buildings created, using poured concrete and not much else. During this time, it was widely believed that natural light inside office buildings was unnecessary and therefore concrete took the place we would usually expect windows to be.
It was strongly believed that windows in the workplace caused more of a distraction than a benefit, and windows were even used to show hierarchy within companies. All longing for that corner office with floor to ceiling glass walls. The privilege of natural daylight in your office was when you knew you’d made it, right?
Surprisingly it was also believed that having natural light in the workspace contributed to eye strain and headaches, which in turn made employees unproductive and unwell. So, along came the wave of bright office lighting that so many of us now dread! Let’s take a look at why natural light is so important for human health.
Building a brighter atmosphere in offices
Modern technology and robots haven’t quite taken over our offices yet! So us human employees are still attracted to one of the biggest mediums that affect our bodies – sunlight.
We are all attracted to it and wait in anticipation for summer where we can all benefit from long daylight hours. When winter comes, we all dread waking up in the dark and travelling home from work in the dark, and so does our circadian rhythm. During winter our natural body clock, our circadian rhythm, makes us feel tired earlier and therefore less productive as our body is ‘winding down’ earlier than in summer.
In summer there is light all around us, but in winter the lack of sun can become quite depressing and fatigue-inducing. After a day full of meetings or staying an hour later to finish your to-do list, to then walk outside when the sun has already set leaves us wondering “where has the day gone?”. Spending the whole day inside, exposed to little or no natural light leaves all of us feeling disorientated and lowers our mood.
Many office designers sometimes still fail to recognise the massive effect that excellent lighting has on a workspace and the employees that will be working there. Studies consistently show that maximising the natural light in offices can positively affect employee’s productivity, energy levels, mood and general well-being.
On average, humans spend 90% of their day indoors, so it’s no surprise that many of us long for a peek at the outside world. Getting outside or being exposed to daylight every now and then during the day will do our energy some good and therefore maintains a healthy level of productivity.
The studies have shown that natural light helps to maintain our body’s circadian rhythm, which is an in-built biological clock that gears our body. This biological clock responds to various cues including darkness and daylight. In modern offices, most of the rooms are filled with artificial lighting, which has been proven to ‘phase-shift’ the circadian rhythm by suppressing melatonin (a key hormone in circadian regulation).
It’s not surprising that employees who work in offices with abundant natural light have improved sleep, an increase of vitamin D and maintain productivity throughout the day. The good quality of natural light reduces fatigue, eye strain and weariness throughout the day and leaves employees feeling positive and energized. These improved energy levels contribute to a more positive attitude at work and a healthier and happier employee.
In summer, in every office, there are the infamous air-con wars! Always the same employees subtly changing the temperature on the thermostat.
Overheating in offices will also contribute to unproductive employees as it creates an uncomfortable working environment, so it’s important to pay attention to the temperature in the office – whether it’s from the heating or solar gain.
All the large glass windows used to improve natural light may be beneficial, but air circulation and the temperature of the office is important to maintain a comfortable office. There are a handful of glass technologies that can be included within the manufacture of these office windows to maintain an ambient temperature and reduce overheating caused by solar gain.
Solar control glass coatings can be applied to the glass units which helps to reduce the amount of solar radiation that can pass through the glass, basically reflecting the suns rays back outside. This is recommended on south-facing elevations and high rise buildings that are exposed to a lot of sunlight bouncing off surrounding high risers.
Utilizing natural light in office interior design
When interior designers look to improve natural light in offices, whether that’s a new build office or an office renovation, there are many hidden tricks that can be done to improve the flow of light. By making simple alterations to the design of an office, the space can boost employee performance dramatically.
Consider an open plan office at the very least, this will allow the whole office to benefit from natural light. If rooms or cubicles are needed within the space, then swap out those opaque partitioning walls and replace them with glass room dividers or glass walls. Using glass for internal office spaces creates bright and innovative working spaces where employees can feel inspired.
Windows are beneficial, but skylights and roof glazing allow the sun to directly penetrate down into the room. If it is possible to install glazing within the ceiling of an office, then we highly recommend this.
Unfortunately, office environments introduce a number of challenges when it comes to glazing, which may include glare on screens or the issue of solar gain.
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