We all know that our surroundings affect our ability to get work done, from that irritating buzzing from the next cubicle over to the uncomfortable chair causing our back pain. But what about lighting? Has the flicker of fluorescent lighting finally gotten to you?
There are plenty of problems attributed to lighting, from migraines to eye strain. On top of the physical issues, though, depending on the type of lighting in your work area, you may be running into some mental issues as well.
For me, insufficient lighting is practically a guarantee that I’m not going to be productive. I may even nod off for a while. In order to get my work done, I have to have some decent lighting! Even a minor change in the lights in my workspace have improved my productivity enormously, making it easier for me to focus on my work, and even to see it.
Choosing the right lighting
Picking out light bulbs can be just as important as picking out a comfortable chair. You have to take into account glare from your computer screen, environmental impact and cost, as well as what level of lighting you work best in. And lighting doesn’t just affect your mood at work. Many people subconsciously choose home lighting that doesn’t remind them of their work environment.
Most office buildings rely on light bulbs in the 6500K range, or about the same lighting level as daylight. I use 6500K light bulbs in my home office as well — they’re available just about everywhere, although brands seem to pick and choose whether to label their bulbs as ‘daylight’ or ‘6500K.’ I’ve found that it’s much easier to keep myself on track with better lighting — in the past I’ve relied on an open window augmented by a desk lamp with a fairly weak light bulb.
Lighting designers routinely recommend that desk workers rely on two light sources for their offices: a general indirect lighting source to generally brighten up a room and “task lighting,” a small direct light source that can be focused on the paper you’re reading or another task at hand. While fluorescents and other options are fine for general illumination, but halogen bulbs are better for detail work, because halogen renders colors with a clarity that other types of lighting often lack.
Ideas for making the switch
To provide examples of improvements you can make to your office lighting, we have three lighting makeovers. You can draw ideas from these situations, especially if you don’t have the option of finding a lighting designer for your work space.
Steve works in an office in an older building. He can see a window from his desk, but most of his lighting comes from the bevy of fluorescent panels installed in the drop ceiling. For Steve, the most crucial lighting issue is the glare on his monitor. Steve’s first step is turning off the fluorescents entirely. Because he’s in an older building, he may actually have more lighting than he needs, due to old school lighting designers’ good intentions to provide workers with as much light as possible. To replace the fluorescents, Steve brings in lamps, to provide indirect lighting. He also chooses to look for a daylight bulb to help him stay on track. He adds a goose neck lamp that he can redirect to whichever task he’s focused on.
James works in a studio and, as an artist, needs more control over his lighting than Steve does. While he’s looked into dimmer switches and related options, James has decided that he wants multiple fixtures for finer control. For the main light source in the room, he chooses a fluorescent bulb of the ‘natural color’ variety — a bit softer than daylight but a good bulb for color rendition, a key factor for an artist. James also invests in several small lamps that he can easily manipulate, choosing halogen bulbs so that he can bring as much light to bear on his work as necessary.
George works in his home office, in his basement. He rarely gets a chance to see sunlight during his work day and wants to use daylight bulbs to bring brightness into his work space. However, he’s also concerned about saving money on his electric bill. George opts for compact fluorescent bulbs, which have a higher initial cost but are more efficient than the incandescent and fluorescent bulbs George was considering. That efficiency means a lower electricity bill for George. He finds 6500K, or daylight, compact fluorescent bulbs that work with three-way lamps — they offer up three different settings so that George can control his light source to match what he’s doing.
These three work areas were simple samples of a few changes that can be made to your work area. Consider lighting as another facet of ergonomics, and you may even be able to convince a manager to make the changes for you. Improvements don’t need to be limited to work areas, either. Consider improving the mood in the relaxing areas of your home, such as your bedroom, just by changing out that daylight light bulb for something more soothing.
There are thousands of lighting combinations available, even for the amateur lighting designer. You may have to try out a couple to find that particular combination that improves your personal productivity. I know from experience, however, that even a little change can be well worth the effort. Even changing a single light bulb can relieve eye strain, save money and generally make it easier to work.