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How lighting in smart buildings affects worker productivity

Many people spend their days working in an office setting, which can leave them feeling mentally drained and exhausted by the end of the day. But these effects may have less to do with workload and more to do with the spaces workers occupy, from monochromatic cubicles to cramped conference rooms. Can smart buildings with proper lighting design solutions be the answer? We're exploring how lighting in smart buildings can affect worker productivity.

What is a smart building?

Poor air quality, ventilation and lighting are typical problem areas for older office buildings. Smart design takes office buildings a step forward by monetizing healthier, more efficient methods and technologies. 

Smart building values are far from abstract, with recent studies showing immediate and powerful benefits for workers' productivity, health and company or building brand image. Well building standards (for buildings that are high-performing and meet LEED standards), thermal conditions, lighting design and lighting quality influence workers' perception of their space as well as their cognitive function and overall performance. 

United Technologies study found that, compared with those working in non-LEED-certified buildings, occupants of LEED-certified buildings had, on average:

  • A 26.4 percent higher cognitive function score. 
  • A 73 percent higher crisis response score. 
  • A 44 percent higher applied activity level score, which reflects workers' ability to make decisions that achieve workplace goals. 
  • A 38 percent higher focused activity level score, which reflects workers' capacity to pay attention to the task at hand. 
  • Thirty percent fewer self-reported sick-building symptoms such as respiratory problems, fatigue and skin irritations.

How can lighting design play a role?

The simple flick of a light switch can alter workers' overall feeling of health and well-being. How can businesses design their workspaces with lighting that delivers the optimal setting and conditions for employees to think, create and collaborate?

Brighter, blue-enriched lighting in smart buildings is associated with better sleep quality at night, which leads to better cognitive performance due to a contrast in daytime and nighttime light exposure. This contrast can help regulate the release of melatonin, the hormone responsible for inducing sleep (Phys Org). 

Here are some ways to create effective lighting design for smart buildings:

  • Construct zone lighting for the task at hand, with cooler color temperatures in work spaces and warmer color temperatures in common areas. 
  • Make greater use of open floor plans and workstations, with fewer enclosed offices. This creates a more efficient use of space and allows light to flow uninterrupted from wall to wall.
  • Make greater use of task lighting to reduce overhead lighting and save energy while offering employees greater control over their individual workspaces. 
  • Provide the majority of employees with access to natural light. This cuts energy usage and creates a more inviting workplace.

How do smart building standards and associated lighting design techniques impact employees?

Investors who build and buy office spaces are seeking greener options, and there is a trend to improve the occupant experience in the workspace. Smart buildings extend beyond energy savings and green technologies to include occupant control, customizable light levels, apps for finding and booking conference spaces and integration to streamline work-life tasks. 

A job applicant today may ask about a company's benefits package or work culture, but with an increasingly environmentally aware workforce, applicants may also ask: "What's the color temperature of overhead lighting in your workspace?" and "Is task lighting prevalent?"

As smart office buildings become more common, it's important to consider the impact they can have on prospective employees. We now know that improved lighting design, air quality and increased ventilation can help people work better, think better, sleep better and have better overall health.