Creating the Ideal Work Environment: Lighting and Sound
Each day, more and more Americans move from factory positions to office jobs. Over the last few decades, the cubicle has come to reign supreme. And despite all of the benefits a desk position has to offer, there are drawbacks. Particularly, both the lighting and sounds present in most office spaces have a large, negative impact on productivity. These offices, by design, can hinder our performance. This is true everywhere from a cubicle farm to a spare room in a freelancer’s home.
Companies spend countless amounts of time, energy, and resources to hire the most qualified candidates. Sadly, far too many companies fail to take the proper steps to ensure those hires are performing at their best. Everything from the type of lightbulb above an employee’s head to the hum of a nearby air-conditioning unit can affect a company’s bottom line. Read on to learn how you can maximize productivity by controlling the impact of both office lighting and sound.
The Impact of Lighting on Productivity
To most of us, a light bulb is a light bulb. Most of us could point out a fluorescent light—and how obnoxious they can be on an early morning—but that’s the extent of our knowledge. And while that’s a fair take, a productivity-minded employer should take all of the available lighting options into consideration.
To understand the degrees of lighting, it helps to think of a fire. At a lower temperature, fires tend to burn red or orange. As things get hotter, you begin to see blues and whites. This same concept applies to light. The light emitted from a fireplace would be on the lower end of the spectrum, whereas harsh fluorescent lighting would be on the higher end of the spectrum.
Lower-level lighting—such as shade lamps and candles—tends to trigger a sense of relaxation. The body associates the lack of bright light with night time and begins preparing for sleep. While this level of light may be appropriate to establish a sense of comfort and intimacy in an individual meeting, it would drastically diminish productivity in a working environment.
Mid-level lighting—such as desk and floor lamps—tends to maintain that sense of comfort while increasing productivity. In this environment, workers will be more alert and focused, but still relaxed. This is a great option for collaborative settings such as conference rooms, where depth is more valued than speed.
High-level lighting—such as fluorescent overhead lights—tends to trigger the highest level of productivity. Workers will feel extremely alert and focused, but will also lose the sense of relaxation other options bring. In a space where quantity and speed of work are extremely important, this will ensure the work is completed in the most productive way possible.
The Impact of Sound on Productivity
Most of us have an idea of our ideal working environment. Some like total silence, while others prefer the hum of a fan or the chitter chatter of a coffee shop. No matter your preference, research has made it clear that sound and background noise have a major impact on workplace productivity. Taking the wrong approach to managing noise levels can result in an environment that inhibits productivity, affecting your bottom line.
We’ve all seen first-hand how noise can impact productivity. Imagine taking a test during a job interview, but all you can focus on is the ticking of the clock in the otherwise silent room. Each and every thought you have is interrupted by a tick, tick, tick. Would you perform at your best in that environment?
Excessive noise has been scientifically shown to trigger a stress response in humans. That means our blood pressure and pulse rise, leaving us unhinged and on-edge. Even individuals who can ignore annoying background sounds are still impacted by this stress response. And in addition to impacting productivity, it can result in an increased sense of tiredness and exhaustion. Over time, that fatigue can take an even greater toll on productivity.
More obviously, noise can impact attention. Whether it’s music or a nearby conversation, humans are inclined to listen in to what’s going on around us. As a result, excessive background noise can result in distracted workers who can’t focus on the task at hand. This will result in slower working speeds in addition to lower quality work.
Of course, it’s important to realize that not all noise is bad and that not all individuals respond to the noise the same way. Considering that, it may be worthwhile to consider establishing a noise-free zone for individuals who feel more productive in silent environments. On the other hand, you can also create office spaces with fans for light ambient noise.
Final Thoughts on Lighting and Sound
If we’ve made anything clear, we hope it’s that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to productivity. In every office, employers must take the purpose of each room into consideration. What goals are they trying to accomplish, and how can those goals best be met? What types of lighting and what level of background noise will best improve productivity?
While this can get complicated, we want to end by saying that sometimes the simplest solution is the best one. More and more research indicates that we are at our most productive when the working environment reflects the actual environment. In other words, offices with windows may just be among the most productive, as natural light and productivity go hand in hand.
The same logic follows for sound. Many individuals report a greater sense of calm and serenity when in nature, and the sounds of nature contribute greatly to this. An open window that allows for the sounds of birds chirping or the wind blowing can create ambient background noise that boosts productivity rather than inhibiting it.
When in doubt, the less artificial your work environment is, the better! It’s also important to invest in testing and analysis of your work environment to ensure that it’s as productive as it can be. A wide variety of monitors and diagnostic tests exist to determine how best to manage both light and sound in any environment.