Shining a light on improved productivity: human-centric lighting in the workplace

The latest figures released in July 2017 by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal that UK workers spend an average of 37.5 hours week at work. However, a recent overtime survey conducted by totallymoney.com showed that they also put in 8.4 hours of overtime each week, which adds up to 68 days of unpaid work each year. Indeed, for a large part of the year, people spend most of their daylight hours in the workplace, writes Tony Ludlow, Director at Connected Light.

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t may therefore also seem surprising that while energy efficiency has been a key factor in specifying workplace lighting over recent years, less attention had been paid to the effects of lighting on staff health. But this is changing and the question is now: “How do you harness these principles and achieve results in SMEs?”.

The WELL Building Standard, launched in 2014, sets evidence-based performance requirements in seven concepts – air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.

Bringing WELL building into business

The WELL Building Standard, which should be the gold standard for businesses looking to adopt a human-centric approach to lighting, notes that: “Strategies to enhance human health and wellbeing have played a relatively small role in the evolution of building standards. We believe that the time has come to elevate human health and comfort to the forefront of building practices and reinvent buildings that are not only better for the planet, but also for people”.

Evidence gathered shows the number of benefits that stem from better buildings with a human-centric focus is significant; better productivity, happier people, increased profit and longer employee retention – all resulting from more holistic approaches to lighting. Among the options to consider, daylighting is a crucial component.

Daylighting

Daylighting is the practice of placing windows or other openings and reflective surfaces so that natural daylight provides effective internal lighting. According to the WELL Building Standard: “Exposure to natural light can improve occupant mood, alertness and overall health. Ideal lighting involves proper exposure to diffuse daylight, as well as careful design of windows and glazing to avoid excessive glare and heat gain”.

Well-designed buildings ensure the optimum use of natural light to meet the WELL Building Standard recommendation of 3% daylight reaching a person’s working area. Daylight gives an emotional quality to a space and the opportunity to look outside is an added bonus. Where artificial lighting is required, it should correspond to the colour temperature of the daylight. At noon, the sky’s colour is a very cool 10000K but at sunset, it is a much warmer 2000K.

Positive days

The positives of well-implemented daylighting are almost endless. Employees who are around more light – specifically natural light – during the day are more likely to be healthier and maintain a good mood.

Test participants with windows in their offices got a startling 46 minutes more sleep per night than their natural light-starved counterparts and even reported getting more exercise after work.

As Phyllis Zee, MD, PhD, Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, explains: “Light can affect the metabolism and efficiency of how your body utilises food, which can be important for weight.”

A connected, holistic approach – the next steps to take

However, windows alone are not the answer. A connected, holistic solution lies in carefully balancing natural light availability with the tasks employees need to carry out, available budgets and the building’s infrastructure.

Daylight management, active ambient lighting systems, automated shading and dimming are just some of the options WELL lays out. Another is circadian lighting, which is about ensuring that lighting is designed to match circadian rhythms – a 24-hour cycle which synchronises bodily functions in humans and animals – and responds to a number of external cues, including light.

Circadian rhythms can influence a number of important biological functions, including alertness, digestion, sleep and hormone release – factors that can greatly impact on an individual’s health, wellbeing and, ultimately, workplace productivity. Lights of high frequency and intensity promote alertness, while the lack of this stimulus signals the body to reduce energy expenditure and prepare for rest.

Does it work?

The 2016 World Green Building Council report on the business case for wellbeing and productivity in green offices illustrated the clear and positive benefits to the business of having a human-centric health and wellbeing approach to their workplaces. Skanska UK reported a saving of £28,000 in 2015 in absenteeism costs and increased employee comfort and satisfaction. In addition, Saint-Gobain call centre staff in their North American headquarters achieved a 97% increase in sales-generated leads and a 101% increase in leads per call since moving into their new building. The effects of taking a human-centric approach to building design, and lighting specifically, are demonstrably positive for a company’s bottom line in reduced sick days and improved productivity.

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