Natural light is the key ingredient for ergonomic lighting design. If your office space has a lack of natural light, you can still make some simple improvements that will pay big dividends.
Natural Light Enhances Health & Happiness
The connection between natural lighting and our overall health and wellbeing is well-established. In short: the human body and mind require a certain amount of sunlight in order to function properly.
That said, even offices with no windows can be designed in a way that enhances physical and psychological health, i.e. that supports comfort, creativity, mental focus and alertness, productivity, and happiness.
Here we offer eight strategies for effectively transforming a windowless office space into a supportive and uplifting work environment. As you’ll see, these include design tips, lighting solutions, ergonomic lighting design strategies, and the application of some inspiring new technology.
But first, let’s take a closer look at some of the physical and psychological benefits of natural lighting.
Employees Value Natural Light—And For Good Reason!
As reported in Harvard Business Review, a recent poll of 1,614 North American employees found that:
“… access to natural light and views of the outdoors are the number one attribute of the workplace environment, outranking stalwarts like onsite cafeterias, fitness centers, and premium perks including on-site childcare.”
The employees in this study reported that an absence of natural light tended to make them feel gloomy and fatigued. It also increased the incidence of eyestrain, headaches, and drowsiness.
And these first-person reports are very much in line with what scientific evidence has confirmed regarding the physical and psychological benefits of natural lighting:
1. Natural light increases feel-good serotonin levels.
The intimate relationship between natural light and mental health is due in large part to the fact that exposure to sunlight boosts our brain’s production of serotonin: a mood-enhancing biochemical. The more natural light we are exposed to, the more serotonin the brain produces, and the better we feel.
2. Artificial light decreases melatonin levels.
A lack of natural light tends also to decrease production of melatonin: a hormone created in the brain by the pineal gland. Melatonin is of vital importance to our health due to its control over our circadian rhythms, i.e. our body’s “internal clock.”
3. Artificial light interrupts circadian rhythms.
When our circadian rhythms are interrupted, we are at increased risk of developing a variety of physical and psychological disorders, e.g. sleep disturbances, depression, diabetes, blood pressure and hormonal abnormalities, and the inability to think clearly.
How To Brighten A Windowless Office
Given the psychological and physiological importance of natural lighting, how can we remain healthy and happy even while working in an office with no windows?
The first (and obvious!) answer is to make sure we spend our lunch-hour outdoors—or at least in a room that gets ample sunlight. We can also make it a priority to get outside on the weekends, or first thing in the morning, or for a half-hour walk or bike ride after work.
But even when we’re in our windowless office, we can be nourished and supported in ways that very closely resemble the benefits of natural light. Here’s how …
Tip #1: Install the Free App f.lux on All of Your Devices.
As mentioned above, one of the downsides of artificial lighting is how it can disrupt our circadian rhythms. And this includes not only ceiling lights and desk or floor lamps—but also the light emitted from our laptops, phones, tablets, and other mobile devices. Particularly when we use these devices into the evening hours, our sleep cycles can be disturbed.
The desire for workplaces filled with natural lighting is due, in part, to our increased use of WiFi devices. As you’ve probably noticed, the longer we sit in front of a computer, the more we yearn for some kind of visual break—such as taking a walk outside or enjoying the view of a courtyard or sky through a window.
The good news is that there’s a wonderful free app—called f.lux—that modulates the spectrum of emitted light on your screen to correspond to the sun’s natural cycles. In other words, it makes the color of your computer’s display adapt exactly to the time of day: warm at night and similar to sunlight during the day.
Most importantly, f.lux removes the blue light when the sun sets so that our circadian rhythms are not disrupted by our late-night computer or phone use.
So our first suggestion—for making your windowless office more healthy and nourishing—is to install the free app f.lux on all of your devices!
Tip #2: Choose Warm, Calming and/or Inspiring Colors in Your Office.
Color—of walls, carpet, drapes, furniture, etc.—can have a powerful influence on our health, wellbeing, productivity, creativity, and overall mood. And this is true at work as much as it is at home.
And having an office with no windows makes it even more important to choose interesting and uplifting colors for the walls and furniture. Which particular colors best support your health and happiness will depend in large part on your own personal experience and preferences.
So the best rule of thumb is to follow your own intuition when choosing colors for your office. If a color makes you feel nourished, supported and/or inspired, it’s probably a good choice!
That said, in studies exploring the effects of color on employee wellness, the following correspondences were observed:
“Low-wavelength colors, like restful green and calming blue—two of the most common colors in Mother Nature’s palette—improve efficiency and focus. They also lend an overall sense of well-being …
Meanwhile mellow yellow, often viewed by color psychologists as the shade of optimism, is energetic and fresh. It is believed to trigger innovation and is best used in work environments where artists, writers, designers, developers and other creative professionals work.”
And red, the study concludes, is best used to draw attention to important information, and invoke passionate emotion.
The bottom line is that color affects our emotional and physical wellbeing—and so can be used to enhance our office experience.
Tip #3: Add Artwork, Photos, or Wall Murals Depicting Natural Scenes.
Even though you’re not able to look out of a window to see the sky, trees, etc. directly—you can hang paintings or photographs depicting beautiful natural scenes.
A visual image of a forest, a river, an ocean beach, a meadow with wildflowers, or a sky with beautiful clouds—can trigger the memory of actually being in such places, and bring forth all the positive emotions and even the physiological changes associated with them.
So include at least a couple of such photos or paintings—or even a large wall mural—in your office, to uplift and inspire you.
Tip #4: Invest in an Ergonomic Desk, Chair, Keyboard, etc.—to Optimize Your Physical Comfort.
There are lots of great options for ergonomic office furniture:
- Adjustable desks that allow you to stand as well as sit
- Swiveling and/or rocking chairs, with adjustable heights
- Exercise balls used instead of a chair
- Ergonomically intelligent keyboards and headsets
So, find the setup that feels most comfortable—for your back, hips, neck, shoulders, wrists, and fingers—and that allows for moment-by-moment adjustments.
Tip #5: Improve Air Quality and Circulation.
Invest in a high-quality, portable air purifier for your office. One excellent choice is the Intellipure Ultrafine 468—but you can also do your own research. Also, make sure that the building’s air circulation system is functioning properly.
This is particularly important for an office with no windows—since stale indoor air can become quite toxic. Keeping the air that you breathe fresh and clean is obviously a vitally important aspect of staying happy and healthy in a windowless office.
Tip #6: Include an Abundance of Indoor Plants in Your Office Space.
Having plants in your office is one of the very best ways of literally bringing the outdoors inside. Aside from being uplifting and beautiful, indoor plants are also fantastic at oxygenating and even purifying the air!
Because plants draw carbon dioxide in from the environment and emit oxygen—they’re perfect symbiotic partners for us humans, who breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. The overall effect of having plants in our office is to increase the amount of oxygen in the air, which is a really good thing.
Plants also can effectively cleanse the environment of toxic VOCs—compounds such as acetone, benzene, and formaldehyde that are emitted as gases from furniture, paints, copiers, printers, and cleaning supplies. Inhaling these chemicals can result in all sorts of short-term and long-term health problems (e.g. dizziness, allergies, asthma), so it’s best to avoid them whenever possible.
So which plants, in particular, are best at purifying the air?
According to one list of the top 20 air-purifying plants, the Boston fern takes top honors. Though according to another study, it’s the Bromeliad that’s the most powerful among air-purifying plants. In any case, you can’t go wrong with any of these:
- Boston Fern
- Peace Lily
- Spider Plant
- Weeping Fig
- Jade Plant
- Rubber Plant
- Bamboo Palm
Tip #7: Harness the Power of Scent.
There are a host of scientific studies that demonstrate the therapeutic use of scents to create psychological harmony. Scents are processed through the body’s limbic system, which is also involved in memory, motivation, and emotional experience. This is why scents can be so powerful in transforming our mental-emotional experience.
So find a way to fill your office space—at least occasionally—with an inspiring scent.
One way of doing this is with a vase of fresh flowers, whose beauty is psychologically uplifting, and whose delicate sweet scent can put a smile on your face.
Another option is to use an aromatherapy diffuser—which disperses the scent of an essential oil. Choose a fragrance that makes your heart sing, and experiment with diffusing it into your office space.
Lavender, rose, lemongrass, chamomile, jasmine, orange, bergamot, clary sage, lily, sandalwood, geranium, rosemary, cedarwood, peppermint, patchouli … are just a few of the many wonderful essential oils that you can experiment with. Have fun!
Tip #8: Invest in Fluorescent Light Filters.
One way to make indoor lighting more like sunshine is to invest in fluorescent light filters. This allows you to experience close to full spectrum natural light, even when you’re in your windowless office.
The previously harsh fluorescent light is transformed, by the filters, into full spectrum natural light—almost identical to afternoon sunlight.
When you change your office environment in this way, your health and well-being will be enhanced by this addition of natural light. Reduction in fluorescent glare means fewer headaches and improved focus, clarity and comfort.
Make-Great-Light fluorescent light filters are a safe, affordable solution that provides the natural, healthy light you need for improved health and wellness in your home and/or office.
The Bottom Line
By implementing these eight strategies, you can transform your windowless office into a true sanctuary: a place that you look forward to spending time in each day—because you feel nourished, happy, and healthy there.