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Office Productivity Studies

Can I have a seat near the window?

This may be a simple question asked when you go to a restaurant, but it may be more important at your place of work.

I remember when I was in school in 19-cough, cough. We had big windows in my elementary and high schools. As the years passed, I noticed windows were getting smaller and smaller and much higher on the walls. This, I was told, was to keep the students from being distracted by the outdoors. You know how bad the outdoors were, right? What they ostensibly did was take away the best health benefit to a person, sunlight.

Dr. Ashwini Nadkarni, an associate psychiatrist and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, says that the effects of light on work productivity were first noted in an experiment conducted in the mid-20th century, called the Hawthorne Effect.

“In this experiment, two groups of workers in factory were studied to determine whether light affected productivity,” says Dr. Nadkarni. “The group that had greater illumination was found to be more productive in terms of work effort and task completion.”

More light has been shed on the issue in recent years, including a 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine which concluded that “architectural design of office environments should place more emphasis on sufficient daylight exposure of the workers in order to promote office workers' health and wellbeing.”

The also applies to our educational facilities. In a study done by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, people performed 10 to 25% better on tests of mental function and memory recall when they worked in a room with daylight and a view, compared to those without. In another study conducted by the California Energy Commission, students with the most daylighting in their classrooms progressed 20% faster on math tests and 26% faster on reading tests in one year than in those with the least. There’s no reason to think what works at school wouldn’t work at home!

The Workplace Wellness Study conducted by Future Workplace, a New York based research firm, and View, a technology company creating smart and connected buildings, surveyed 1,601 North American employees in April 2019.

The study shows that workplace environment is more important to employee satisfaction, engagement and productivity than most organizations realize. 67% of employees said they are more productive in a healthy environment.

Air quality was mentioned as the number one concern for employees. Three quarters of those surveyed said poor air quality makes them feel sleep, itchy, watery eyes and throat irritations. Most say these symptoms improve once they leave their building.

Quality lighting is the second most desired improvement. Yet 60% of employees says that their companies don’t provide the needed lighting for optimal job performance. “The research show that employer health and wellness efforts fall short despite company investments in on-site gyms, ergonomics and healthy food choice’, says Jeanne Meister, Founding Partner, Future Workplace. “It’s the invisible factors such as air quality and access to natural light that are often overlooked yet provide a significant influence on workplace wellness, employee productivity, and the overall quality of the employee experience”.

A 2018 study conducted by Alan Hedge, a professor in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell, workers in day-lit office environments reported an 84 percent drop in symptoms of eyestrain, headaches and blurred vision symptoms, which can detract from Key findings of the study include:

  • Controlled daylight unlocks significant health and wellness benefits for office workers. Workers in office environments with optimized natural light reported an 84 percent drop in symptoms of eyestrain, headaches and blurred vision symptoms, which often result from prolonged computer and device use at work and can detract from productivity.
  • More natural light translates to more alert employees. Workers in offices with smart glass reported a 10 percent decrease in drowsiness.
  • Enhanced individual performance is tied to access to natural light. Workers sitting close to a window that optimized daylight exposure reported a 2 percent increase in productivity – the equivalent of an additional $100,000/year of value for every 100 workers or around $2m over the window's lifetime.
  • Natural light creates a better indoor experience. Workers in offices with smart glass reported a 40 percent increase in daylight quality. Lack of daylight and access to views decreases the ability for the eye to relax and recover from fatigue. Additionally, workers in proximity to windows report 80 percent higher daylight satisfaction.
Other benefits resulting from exposure to sunlight:

♦ Increases Focus - Natural light during both the morning and evening has been shown to increase concentration and focus. Feeling foggy? A naturally lit space will help you be more productive than an artificially lit work environment. Increased natural light during the day helps you sleep better, so that you’re well-rested and on the ball for work the next day.
♦ Reduces Blood Pressure - Research shows that sunlight alters levels of the small messenger molecule, nitric oxide (NO) in the skin and blood, which reduces blood pressure. Martin Feelisch, Professor of Experimental Medicine and Integrative Biology at the University of Southampton, says “NO along with its breakdown products, known to be abundant in skin, is involved in the regulation of blood pressure. When exposed to sunlight, small amounts of NO are transferred from the skin to the circulation, lowering blood vessel tone; as blood pressure drops, so does the risk of heart attack and stroke.”
♦ Reduces Stress and Anxiety - ”If people are exposed to light in the morning that mimics the wavelengths of daylight, they become better at coping with anxiety-provoking experiences. The light simply improves the communication between the regions of the brain that are central to our handling of emotions such as stress and anxiety,” says PhD fellow Brenda Mc Mahon, MD, of the Neurobiology Research Unit at the Copenhagen University Hospital, Denmark.
♦ Boosts your Immune system - Our immune systems rely on T-cells to fight pathogens and sunlight stimulates the t-cells to create more Vitamin D.  According to the Community Research and Development Information Service of the EU, “T cells are a type of white blood cell that perform a central role in the immune system. In order to find, react and fight off various infections in the body, T cells must transform from dormant, harmless cells to active ones capable of killing often serious bacteria and viruses. Without sufficient sources of this vitamin in the blood, say the researchers, the cells remain dormant and are therefore incapable of ‘activating’ to fight foreign pathogens.” Vitamin D also influences the bones, intestines, cardiovascular system, pancreas, muscles and brain.
♦ Benefits vision - sunlight lowers the risk of nearsightedness in children and young adults by helping the eye produce dopamine, which aids in eye development.

Also, one of the leading causes of falling in the elderly is falling. Most due to insufficient lighting. Aging eyes need more light to see. Artificial lighting can cause glare. Natural lighting is less glaring and doesn’t create as many shadows which can confuse the eyes.

Helps prevent SAD- Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that occurs when seasons change, usually in the fall and winter. SAD is linked to the disruption of our circadian rhythm and decreases serotonin and melatonin: all because a lack of sunlight.

Additional Sources:

New Study: Air Quality And Natural Light Have The Biggest Impact On Employee Well-Being

Study: Natural Light Is The Best Medicine For The Office

15 Reasons You Need As Much Natural Lighting In Your Home
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