Modern offices are depressing affairs – grey, pale and more than often lacking in light. They’re full of things designed to make it more challenging to work. Office cubicles are even worse, the modern equivalent of the nineteenth-century factory with the same effect on health and well-being.
It says much that the symbol of status in many businesses is still the corner office, the one with the most light. When you get allocated that one, you’ve made it.
I worked in Paris in the late 1980s, but it’s not half as glamorous as it sounds, especially in winter. I’d leave home around 7 in the morning when it was dark and walk 15 minutes to the station. I’d then take the train and metro into work … still in the dark. By the time I got to the office a little before 9, it was just getting light.
I spent the day in an office with no windows. When I left at 6, it was already dark again. The only daylight I enjoyed was an hour at lunch. And I took all that hour, believe me.
A mole’s existence.
Across the world, 47% of offices have no natural light. And not just offices, factories, hospitals, shops and even public buildings like libraries and gyms are also in the dark.
Modern-day dark satanic mills?
The offices try to compensate with hard, artificial light but are full of grey, metallic furniture with no nuance or individuality.
We now have study upon study to prove – and frankly, it’s not rocket science – that this does nothing to improve our efficiency and is not good for us.
For us that work in non-conventional office spaces – most of us at home – we can do better than that.
It might be your first instinct to replicate your old workspace when setting up an office but hang on a minute before you do.
Just a cursory search of style magazines, Pinterest and Unsplash, will show you offices with enormous windows and enough greenery to set up a garden centre. They’re not just doing it for style. They know how our brains work.
Our brains need light to function correctly.
There is an increasing body of evidence to suggest that where we work determines how we work and how effective and productive we are.
Before the industrial revolution, we spent all our days out in the fields. It was back-breaking work most of the time, but at least we got vitamin D. But now spend somewhere between 80% and 90% of our time indoors, and it’s even more important that we get our dose of natural light. A survey published in the Harvard Business Review found that it was the single thing wanted most by office workers.
Pacific Gas & Electric carried out a study of natural light using Walmart as a guinea pig. They studied how natural lighting with skylights affected sales.
They looked at stores in the same geographic area, with the same layout, same everything. The only actual difference was that some stores had skylights and others didn’t. The study concluded that sales in the stores with skylights had 40% more sales than ones with only fluorescent lighting.
I’m converting my garage in the garden into an office in the next couple of months – well, not me, I have a builder – and the first thing going on the roof is a couple of skylight windows. I’m just going to be careful that it doesn’t turn into a greenhouse in the summer.
I’m going to widen the current windows, it’s a little “house” built in the 1930s to accommodate cars from another era. I see a Ford Model T fitting in there nicely.
I’ve never had an office outside the house and though I’m only moving into the garden, it’s a big move. It’ll be my haven and inspiration for creativity and lots of words next year.
What’s your ideal office environment? How do you see it developing as your business changes in the coming months and years?
I’d love to know.