Legislation is needed to improve access to daylight - should legislation be created to make it a legal entitlement?
Britain should introduce legislation to ensure that people in the workplace have sufficient access to natural daylight. Countries like Germany and Sweden already recognise the importance of natural daylight in the workplace and have legislated to ensure there are legal minimum standards.
There could be more than a passing connection between renowned German efficiency and production levels and the country’s approach to workers’ access to daylight. Studies have clearly shown that greater access to daylight can improve productivity by as much as 20%, as well as enhancing employee workplace satisfaction and potentially reducing stress levels.
To put the importance of natural daylight into context, it is worth noting the results of a study conducted at aerospace and defence contractor Lockheed Martin. When the company moved 3,000 staff into a new intensively day-lit office headquarters there was a 15% reduction in absenteeism.
Even better results were achieved when furniture manufacturer Herman Miller relocated to its new Michigan headquarters. After only nine months’ occupation of the building – called GreenHouse after its ample use of courtyards, internal gardens and skylights – staff productivity had risen by 20%.
Scientists do not believe that these are isolated examples or that this pattern is restricted to offices and other workplaces. Schoolchildren also benefit from greater exposure to daylight in the classroom. A study in California found learning and performance improvements of 20% to 26% in schools with greater natural daylight compared with those providing fewer windows.
Higher productivity is not the only benefit of improved access to daylight. Research is beginning to show that better daylight in the workplace can reduce stress levels too.
Researchers have found that in hospitals daylight has a positive impact on post-operative patient health. Patients on the better-lit side of a hospital were found to suffer less stress and require 22% less analgesic medication than those on the dimmer, less well-lit side.
I am firmly of the view that greater access to daylight significantly cuts the rate of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and its subsequent depression. I believe it is only a matter of time before a scientifically proven link between a lack of daylight and SAD is made. If this does happen, then there are huge legal and operational implications for businesses and employers. There is no doubt companies will have to look harder at the buildings they occupy in the future.
This will not only apply to traditionally occupied buildings but to my own industry where operators that need to reconfigure internal layouts to maximise occupancy do so at a cost of restricting access to natural daylight. They will find it is difficult to access the corporate end of the market as major employers will have an eye on the potential impact on employees.
We are already seeing a disturbing trend in certain parts of the flexible office space market, especially those that focus on a high-profile co-working offer.
Occupiers are being seduced by designer-led co-working spaces. However, in some cases, flexible space is being delivered in a cramped format in less desirable parts of buildings, where access to natural light is restricted or limited and, in some cases, is non-existent. Trendy co-working space may be great for occasional use but a majority of occupiers’ time is spent behind a desk where there may be little or no direct access to daylight.
Perhaps one of the key differences between pro-working space provided by companies like my own and co-working is that we recognise where most of our clients spend their working days and therefore ensure the greatest amount of natural daylight is present at fixed-desk locations.
I believe that legislation is going to be necessary to ensure that working conditions across a wide range of industries are conducive to better health and productivity.
If access to daylight in the workplace becomes enshrined in law then a major rethink of how certain buildings are designed and built will be required. They may cost more, but then the upside – as the US studies have shown – is a measurable rise in productivity. This, in turn, will help us as a nation to boost our GDP – one of the key objectives of any government.