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Shining example of personal control

In the driver seat

Control over your immediate workspace not only reduces back and eye strain, that sense of respect tends to make you feel more connected and engaged with the team, and you’re likely to get more done – Effects of control over office workspace on perceptions of the work environment and work outcomes.

You’re even likely to be more tolerant of other stressors including your boss! – Personal Control of the Indoor Environment in Offices: Relations with Building Characteristics, Influence on Occupant Perception and Reported Symptoms Related to the Building—The Officair Project.

When it comes to the lights, what does that mean?

Brightness is the most obvious parameter. We tend to feel more awake, alert and react more quickly under bright, cool light – Acute alerting effects of light: A systematic literature reviewRecommendations for daytime, evening, and nighttime indoor light exposure to best support physiology, sleep, and wakefulness in healthy adultsAnother argument for more light on your desk is simply that you’ll be able to see more clearly. Dropping light levels from 500 to 300 lux can reduce how clearly you see by over 4% – Assessing optimal colour and illumination to facilitate reading. Getting enough light on the task gets more important as we age – a 30 year old’s vision is over 36% better than a 60 year old’s under normal office conditions – WORKPLACE ILLUMINATION EFFECTS ON ACUITY, COGNITIVE PERFORMANCE AND WELL-BEING IN OLDER AND YOUNG PEOPLE.

More is not always better though- this field study in an office sounds a word of caution, pointing to potential negative effects of excess light on sleep, mood and comfort for some team members and variations across the year – Less is more? Effects of more vs. less electric light on alertness, mood, sleep and appraisals of light in an operational office.

Offering personal control over light levels is a relatively simple way to cater for different needs- and can even cut your electricity bill by up to 50% – Improving lighting energy efficiency through user response.


Comfortable colours 

We’re used to thinking about brightness, but the colour temperature – warm or cool – is arguably as important when it comes to how we feel about a space.

This project gave participants 70 minutes under 2700k (warm) or 5700k (cool) desk lamps with some extra lighting from a panel above.  Both set-ups were balanced for melanopic lux (a measure of how much a light source affects the non-visual system) to rule out the well-established alerting ‘caffeine’ effect of blue wavelengths.

Subjects were then invited to tune the colour with fascinating results. They all shifted the dial to somewhere between 3400 and 4200k. For reference, a standard corridor is around 3000 and a bathroom around 4000k.

Those who started off with warm opted for slightly cooler, while those who started off cool warmed it up. Proof again that it’s context or baseline that counts. We see this effect in everything from portion control (we eat almost twice as much when it’s on a bigger plate – Whether Smaller Plates Reduce Consumption Depends on Who’s Serving and Who’s Looking: A Meta-Analysis) to profitable selling (we tend to pay more when a product is presented with higher-priced items) – Digital Nudging: Numeric and Semantic Priming in E-Commerce.

Just having control reduced perceived mental demand, and boosts alertness, pleasure, perceived performance. This personal touch even increased heart rate and reduced heart rate variability, generally linked to physiological arousal.

Another reason to invest in some good-quality desk lamps for your team along with the ergonomic chair and sit-stand desk!


Design for the margin – and boost your bottom line

This excellent blog from Scientific American’s George Musser reviews efforts by interior designers to make the dreaded open-plan office more user-friendly so we actually want to come in – Fixing the Hated Open-Design Office.

He begins with the paradox that the original idea was to increase informal interaction and cross-talk between specialisms but recent research suggests that the average open plan space does exactly the opposite. One study showed that workers spent only one-third as much time interacting face to face as they had before the shift to open plan. To this obvious downside, he notes how for many, particularly women, the sense of being ‘on show ‘can exacerbate concern about appearance and increase the pressure to demonstrate status through dress. He even notes an increase in sexist behaviour. 

So what’s the solution?

George points to successful projects that harnessed perspectives from the Deaf and autistic communities. After all, when you design for the most sensitive in your team, the rest of you will be more comfortable too.

This Gensler blog ( is packed with compelling facts about why it’s worth the effort, including this one: Inclusive companies are 1.7x more innovative and are almost twice as likely to be leaders of innovation in their industries – 20 Diversity in the Workplace Statistics to Know.


Bedtime reading

I’m loving this book, written by one of the pioneers in Seasonal Affective Disorder research, Professor Til Roenneberg

Til’s clinic is celebrated for their ground-breaking work with people on the verge of suicide. That may why it’s such a gentle yet clear-eyed read. 

Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired by Til Roenneberg 

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