How do we use light for maximum benefit in our workplaces? How can the risks associated with bad lighting be mitigated?

We will address these questions from the perspective of the three categories of light (Light as objective matter for vision, Light as matter that influences our entire body, and Light as agency catering moods) defined in part 1 of this article.

Good Use of Light for Your Vision

To control and take advantage of visible light and light that aids our vision, we should set and maintain good standards of these three elements: visual acuity (including the one for monitors), brightness, and glare (both from sun and electric lights). Here are some tools that will help.

  1. Maintain minimum light intensity for ambient lights (215 lux) and task lights (300 – 500 lux depending on the task) for visual acuity.
  2. Use lamp shielding and position electrical lights to minimize glare.
    • Lights need to be above 53 degrees from the horizontal view line.
  3. Use window shadings or variable opacity glazing (smart glass) to control solar glare.
  4. Automated shading control and light control that responds to the shading.
  5. Choose surfaces with proper light reflectivity values (LRV) for ceiling, walls, and furniture.
    • More reflection on the ceiling, followed by walls, and then furniture is optimal
  6. Position workstations and monitors to minimize glare from sun and lighting
  7. Use supplemental lighting when using virtual tools (Zoom, YouTube) to enhance appearance and visibility

Please keep in mind that each individual has different requirements for lighting based on his/her sensitivity, age, etc., and different tasks need varied settings.  Getting input from employees BEFORE implementing these tools will make them much more effective. If working from home, ask yourself and family members (ex. do you live with a parent who needs more light to read?) before following the standard requirements.

Our movements during the course of a work day are illuminated in various lightscapes, just as there is different lighting for different scenes in a movie, that makes us feel well and more productive.

Y. Kawai & Y. Burton

Utilize Light to Maintain Proper Circadian Rhythms

For the proper circadian function of our bodies, we need to make the daily cycle of the lighting levels in our surroundings similar to what we are exposed to in the natural environment. The approaches to achieve this are behavioral, spatial, and technological.

Daytime working schedules are better than night shifts or long working hours starting during daylight and going into night. To help balance our rhythms, companies can limit night-working hours, and individuals can try to go outside at lunch time to get exposure to sunlight. We can also minimize screen brightness, and limit screen time directly prior to bedtime.  

The office layout can help by having desks located close to the windows. WELL Building Standard recommends having 75% of working stations within 25 feet of a window. Having a beautiful garden or exterior space, and easy and encouraging access to it motivates people to step outside, too.

In areas or seasons when real sunlight is scarce, installing lighting systems that simulate sunlight has been proven beneficial. They often come in the form of skylights, such as Innerscene. Some can accommodate seasonal landscapes, which is also a benefit to our minds as discussed in our vision article. When working-at-home and needing more exposure to sunlight, a therapy light box is a possibility if used under the proper medical guidance.

Architects and engineers who design workplaces can use daylight modeling software to simulate the effects of natural light. Some applications, such as Safaira, can be plugged into 3D modeling tools that many designers are already using.

Light and the work environment

Designing Lightscapes

In our previous article on the sense of hearing, we discussed how well-designed soundscapes in an office can deepen workers’ connection and interaction with their environment so that they will benefit more from what the sounds offer.  The kind of soundscapes we suggested are ones in which an individual is exposed and responds to as he works or moves around the office.  This is similar to experiencing sound effects in a movie in which each scene has specific accompanying sounds that relate to that scene or part of the story. 

The same can be done with what we call “lightscapes” by using all three senses of light, for vision, non-vision, and as agency. There could be spatial zones or temporal instances in which light is brighter to enable seeing better or feeling more alert; or darker for resting your eyes or supporting calmness.

Bright and dark are not bipolar and come in assorted colors; various light conditions can be created by combining sunlight, artificial lights, and lights reflected on architectural surfaces (walls, ceilings, countertops) of different colors.

Some of the moods evoked by lighting can be produced more efficiently if different lights are placed in a certain order. A welcoming mood of warm light is accentuated if you go through a dim lighted place first, for example. The contrast between light and dark spaces is also found to have a healing effect as you can experience in Japanese architecture and gardens.

Our movements during the course of a work day are illuminated in various lightscapes, just as there is different lighting for different scenes in a movie, that makes us feel well and more productive. Making good use of light for vision or maintaining proper circadian rhythms should be a part of any lightscaping for the work environment.

In our next article, we continue our discussion with a focus on Water.  

(Written by Yoko Kawai and Yvonne Burton)


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