I have been listening to a great NPR podcast series lately, Hidden Brain with Shankar Vedantam, and the latest episode really struck a cord with me. The “You 2.0: Tunnel Vision” episode about the psychological phenomenon of scarcity is about how our brains react to scarcity. The examples in the episode center around poverty and the scarcity of money, hunger due to a scarcity of food, and loneliness. My thoughts went to a recent temporary experience of scarcity in which my brain behaved just as the podcast had illustrated.
I had been in a conference room for an all-day meeting in which there was no natural light and no fresh air. Light and air were scarce for me. The entire meeting I focused on the lack of light and air; I obsessed over it. That was not just a mental response, it was also very much a physical reaction. Not having what I felt I needed “became the only thing that mattered to me” (from the podcast!). I was unable to enjoy the meeting and I wasn’t able to focus on the content of the meeting as much as I would have liked to.
As designers, we allow access to natural light and air in all of our designs, because this is just good design. Now I understand it is good business too. The environmental movement has taught us the health benefits and economic benefits of providing natural light and fresh air in workplaces, but never had I realized how detrimental to productivity the lack of them could be, until I experienced it myself.
If you wonder if you are not providing enough light or air for your employees in your workspace, start by measuring CO2. High levels of CO2 will literally put people to sleep. One remedy is to retrofit your HVAC system with economizers and CO2 monitors so that when the CO2 levels get too high the economizers bring in fresh air to mitigate the CO2. As for light, replacing fluorescent lighting with LED lighting in a color that more mimics natural light may help.
To improve the productivity of your employees, and you for that matter!, consider when renovating your space to add light and air. Adding as many operable windows and skylights as possible, all with motorized shades (to darken the space and provide privacy as needs require), will help employees obsesses over their work and not the scarcity of a productive work environment. Adding light and air will create a happier and healthier workforce, including you!