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Shedding Light on Human Energy in Facility Design

Natural light in the workplace enhances “human energy,” which translates into a benefit for business.

Q3 2017
In today’s modern knowledge economy, the most successful organizations thrive and grow on human energy — or the sum of workers’ health, productivity, and happiness. From Silicon Valley startup offices to industrial facilities, space designed with what I like to call the “human energy factor” is generating immense shared value for property owners and their tenants. This includes everything from improving employee productivity through a stronger, more satisfied workforce to ancillary benefits for facility managers and building owners alike, from higher rents to lower tenant turnover.

Let’s face it: most buildings are “unnatural” places that take a toll on their inhabitants’ human energy. Each day, a certain amount of human energy enters the building, is exhausted, and exits. To improve the human energy factor for individuals both at work and at home, a workspace must be able to anticipate and respond to the employees and their tasks.

In an industrial facility, this may be more critical than ever given the stresses of modern manufacturing. While these needs may vary, human energy generally is impacted by personal fulfillment, exercise, nutrition, and socialization, among other factors. But one of the most important factors for promoting human energy is also its most often overlooked — natural sunlight.

A Lot of Benefit for a Little Natural Light
Today, people spend around 90 percent of their day inside, often away from windows and removed from nature, according to a 2017 report by Harvard School of Public Health. This is something to worry about, considering humans evolved outside in dynamic environments. For most of human existence, sunlight dictated daily life and biological rhythms. When we shutter ourselves inside all day bathed by artificial lighting, we wreak havoc on our circadian rhythms, which can lead to sleep disorders and other well-known health issues.

Today, people spend around 90 percent of their day inside, often away from windows and removed from nature. Harvard School of Public Health 2017 report The business implications of the human energy factor are becoming increasingly apparent. As people are an organization’s largest expense and most valuable resource, even a small increase in productivity or decrease in costs can amount to a major boon for the bottom line. To put the costs into perspective, for every $1 spent on energy, $10 is spent on real estate, and $100 is spent on people. According to a 2015 study by the University of Oregon, Eugene (UOE) of some 7,600 office workers, those who work in offices with natural elements — of which light is an integral factor — are 6 percent more productive and 15 percent more creative overall. Meanwhile, workers in offices with poor lighting quality and obstructed window views take significantly more sick leave than those in offices with good natural light.

Daylight Improves Occupant Health
That sunlight is good for us is a no-brainer, yet companies continue to subject their most valuable assets to dark and unnatural environments. And the benefits of increased access to natural lighting go well beyond productivity and into the direct health of building occupants.

Daylight exposure and access to windows at work are linked to improved sleep duration and mood, reduced sleepiness, lower blood pressure, and increased physical activity, the University of Oregon report states. While increased natural light elevates human energy, a lack of it is associated with physiological, sleep, and depressive symptoms. The introduction of natural light can lead to improved cognitive function at work and improved sleep quality at home. Conversely, the lack of sunlight can contribute to ailments such as seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression.

Furthermore, people working in offices with windows sleep an average of 46 minutes more per night than workers without windows, according to a 2013 study by Northwestern University. This leads to better work performance the next day, supporting the concept of the human energy factor, which is based on the simple concept of creating workplaces that let light into buildings to naturally energize people.

Natural Light Lifts Up Property Values
Natural light’s benefits may make HR happy, but they also help real estate developers, builders, and real estate investors, who have much to gain from creating healthy, human energy-friendly buildings. A majority of U.S. building owners (73 percent) who recognize the impact of healthy, light-filled buildings report faster occupancy rates, and 62 percent report higher property values, according to a 2016 report by Dodge Data & Analytics. Meanwhile, some 69 percent of building owners also report improved satisfaction due to their healthier building investments.

Furthermore, people working in offices with windows sleep an average of 46 minutes more per night than workers without windows. Northwestern University 2013 study Countless businesses already have embraced the concept behind the human energy factor. Adobe told BBC Capital that it had renovated its headquarters to incorporate plants, sunlight, and views. Overstock.com chose to use dynamic glass that automatically tints to create a design that promotes employees’ exposure to natural light. McKesson’s headquarters in Virginia was also recently renovated to optimize access to natural light and uses LED fixtures that brighten and dim automatically to mimic how sunlight changes throughout the day — adapting to people’s natural circadian rhythm.

In short: buildings where people are happy and healthy will better position a company for continued success. The best environment is bound to attract the best talent. Facility design “unequivocally” impacts employees’ decisions whether or not to work somewhere, according to a third of those polled for the UOE study.

While the term is an evolution of the new but growing fields of biophilia and human wellness, the “human energy factor” describes a very real truth, applied to all businesses generating shared value for people who work inside buildings. Humans need natural light for health and happiness — give them what their minds and bodies need, and they’ll give you what your business demands.
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