Office Lighting: Bright Lights for Bright Minds

Working in bad lighting conditions can lead to restless behaviour. This article outlines the issue of appropriate lighting and why it is underrated in many workplaces. Nowadays, employees in modern office spaces use HD monitors, have access to ergonomically adjustable office chairs and desks and are given suitable timeframe for work breaks. Lighting, on the other hand, is a field in which employers tend to save, the logic being that computer screens are bright enough anyway.

Employer laws and regulations ensure at least basic working conditions for employees. Some self-employed entrepreneurs, however, are still known for their dubious working conditions. Even home office workers run into this common problem, which could be avoided altogether with a bit of logical thought and behaviour. The problem is that people put undue strain on their eyes under dim light and are essentially ignoring their light reflexes for 8 hours a day, which leads to postural problems. Or they tend towards restlessness because warm light colours, normally used for living spaces and therefore associated with relaxation, are used at work.

Further consequences include fatigue, lack of productivity and eye problems; in the long term, even vision impairment and depression threaten. It must also be clear that computer work is especially demanding for the eyes. The eyes are forced to concentrate on a fixed surface immediately in front of them, they are under strain for extended periods and they also have to compensate for the different brightness of the screen and its surroundings. Whilst this physical harm may be self-evident, the psychological aspects of lighting necessitate a small example. Some people tend more, and others less, to winter gloominess. According to current expert opinion, the reduction of natural light in winter causes the human body falls into a kind of hibernation in order to conserve energy. This manifests seasonal affective disorder, also known as winter depression. Following this logic, it is not healthy to spend eight or more hours in dim light on a daily basis.

With use of the right light sources, it is usually quite simple to ensure appropriate workplace lighting. And because optimal working conditions encourage optimal work, brightening up the office is immediately worth the effort.

The Theory – The Best Workplace is in the Open Air

Technically speaking, experts agree that ideal lighting conditions are in the open air, under a blanket of light, slowly moving cloud. This ideal can be replicated in office spaces through a new and expensive ceiling panel system. It involves installing large LED screens that simulate daylight and can also convey messages to employees, thus allowing functional lighting in addition to a partly cloudy summer sky. This kind of lighting is perfect not only for offices, but also for private practices and clinics – anywhere where daylight is needed. These systems are capable of producing an impressive light intensity: they can emit up to 20000 lux, which is comparable to the intensity of daylight on a summer’s day. Like any avant-garde technology, these systems are still a long way from mass production. They are also exorbitantly expensive and virtually inaccessible for the average consumer. As such, it is markedly less expensive to use some common sense and a little knowledge of physics and chromatics (the science of colour) to apply principles of good lighting at work.

Although the following focuses on office work, essentially the same applies to trade work. A tailor should move their sewing machine under a decent source of light just as a carpenter should implement decent lighting at their workbench. Such lighting regulations are codified in the law of most European Union nations. The German “Regulation for Safety and Workplace Protection for Work at Screens” and the “Regulation for Workplaces”, for example, can be viewed on the German Government Website for Customer and Consumer Protection. They show that workplace health and safety, including proper lighting, is taken seriously.

From Candelabra to LED and OLED: Office Lighting in Values and Figures

Different criteria apply to different parts of the office. If a desk is right next to the window, lighting should be adjusted to 300 lux. Moving further into the middle of the room or towards the centre of the building, a value of 500 to 1000 lux is required. Lighting intensity, measured in “lux”, is calculated by dividing the light intensity (measured in “candela”) of a point-shaped source of light by the square of the distance in metres. A candela is approximately the brightness of a candle. Measured in lux, a candle at a distance of two metres would produce 0.25 lux. (i.e. 1÷22 = 0.25). An office would thus require very large candelabra to conform to office lighting regulations. Indeed, office workers have a significantly easier job if they make use of modern technology. Energy-saving LED lights or fluorescent tubes in “neutral white” or “daylight white” come closest to mirroring natural light. Use these lighting technologies in combinations with an individually adjustable desk lamp and large windows that let in a lot of natural light. A further measure to bring daylight into closed spaces is the OLED (organic light-emitting diode). By contrast to its inorganic cousin, the LED (light-emitting diode), the OLED can be manufactured using thin-film technology. Every smartphone, tablet and flat-screen television owner already has access to an OLED, as they are commonly used in screen lighting. OLEDs can also be used with building materials such as wood or ceiling panels as they only emit trace amounts of heat.

However, technology is not the only factor in office lighting: it is also important to take account of architecture. The short side of your desk should face the window, allowing daylight to fall on the monitor from the right or left side. Ideally, you should have two desk lamps: one on your left side, the other on your right. In terms of ceiling lighting, light should be emitted from both ceiling lights and from reflection into the room. For individual workstations, the good old desk lamp does a fine job and should ideally be fitted with an LED light bulb. In short, try to develop interplay between artificial and natural sources of light as well as direct and indirect light. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet for lighting solutions, and light sensitivity remains a subjective matter – older workers generally require more light than younger ones.

Lighting and Interior Design

Interior design and the layout of the office space can be a deciding factor in lighting decisions. If a tabletop is reflective, for example, even low-reflection monitors and lights are of little use. And if the walls are painted a dark colour, it will be more difficult for daylight to reflect into the office space than with white paint. This is not to say that your office space must be sterile or that it should be as inviting as a dentist’s surgery. Light colours and low-reflection surfaces could include an old wooden desk in front of an orange wall, for example. Or, for a more modern look, a tempered glass desk and light-grey walls. The combinations are endless. If you already have a good lighting system – whether at home or in the office – you are doing most things right. If you wish to perfect your lighting set-up, it is worth knowing a little bit about different light colours and their effects.

Indeed, a common room should differ from office and conference rooms in more than just function. Room lighting should complement the purpose of a room and should thus change according to the desired mood, as different spectral colours are proven to elicit different responses from the body. Our general sense of wellbeing and comfort already say a great deal: nobody would nail a xenon lamp to their living room ceiling, as the ghostly blue light, albeit serving to define the room, would probably encourage a hasty departure more than anything else.

As with living spaces at home, warm colours can be used in common rooms and lunch areas to denote relaxation and comfort. In a cafeteria or a creative room, a light orange colour presents itself nicely. Orange represents optimism and happiness and aids in creative thinking and socialising. Blue light stands for calm and helps with speaking and clear thinking – it is the perfect spectral choice for the office. And red? Red indicates love, passion and anger, and it has somewhat lost its popularity in office spaces. Used at the right time and for the right duration, red increases vitality. But if red is overused, the office can become – as stated – quite a restless place.