News Post

Office Lighting: Beyond Energy Efficiency

By Elizabeth A. Eiland​, Beasley Allen Law Firm

Numerous studies confirm that natural light in the workplace leads to better sleep, improved memory, faster reflexes, and better communication skills (among other benefits).

It’s likely that any discussion your law firm has about office lighting focuses on energy efficiency: How much will it cost to run the lights in the building while you and your colleagues clock long hours working on cases?  If that is the extent of the discussion, you’re likely missing out on an opportunity to increase your productivity and overall well-being.

Anyone who has gotten the elusive promotion to a window office can personally attest to the boost that comes from access to natural light. Giving everyone an office with a view isn’t feasible for most offices; however, with a little homework, lawyers can use artificial light sources to achieve similar results.

According to UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, our choice of lighting affects how well we work – in terms of both quality and volume. Specifically, the color temperature of our lighting can influence both mood and productivity.

Warm-colored light (between about 2,000-4,000K) creates a sense of comfort and relaxation. In a profession plagued by the negative effects of living and working in a constant, high-stress environment, the potential benefits of strategic, warm lighting are easy to see.  Warmer light temperatures in break rooms can help workers relax.  Employing warmer lights in conference rooms can positively impact how well colleagues interact with each other during meetings and brainstorming sessions.

By contrast, cooler light colors increase alertness. Employing cooler-temperature lighting in areas where workers tend to engage in focused-work can reduce fatigue and increase productivity.  Blue-enriched light bulbs (17,000K) can actually lower the body’s production of melatonin, similar to the effects of a cup of coffee.  This leads to increased mental acuity and reduced levels of fatigue. If you’re wondering how well you can see that brief you’re working on, a two-month research study at the University of Greenwich also found that workers experienced less eye strain with blue-enriched light bulbs.

In an ideal environment, light temperatures would be customized to both location (e.g., warmer tones in break rooms, cooler tones in office areas) and time of day.  Innovations in customizable lighting are making it possible for an office to start the day with cooler lighting and increase in warmth throughout the day, mimicking the natural pattern of daylight.  While we wait on technological advancements to make those systems more accessible, some research shows that allowing employees some control over the lighting in their work-space (think: lamps and individual task lighting) leads to happier, more productive employers.

So, what’s a firm to do if windows for everyone or high-tech, customized lighting simply aren’t feasible options?  Schedule breaks to take a walk outside.  Even short periods of natural light exposure are often enough to trigger endorphins that provide a mood lift.