The Importance Of Good Office Lighting: And How it Affects Working Comfort

When you’re driving late afternoon on a sunny day in winter, it can be dazzling making it almost impossible to see where you're going. Somehow the sun seems to be lower and larger at this time of year and even with the sun visor down it can still be very difficult to see what you're doing through the glare on your windshield. Working with poor lighting conditions in an office can often be this way too.

So, let’s look at office lighting in 3 stages:

  • The type of lighting used in offices
  • Problems poor lighting can cause (and ways to minimize them)
  • The importance of where you sit

First let’s examine the sort of lighting commonly used in office
Most commercial offices these days have fluorescent lighting and initially it might seem that there is little difference between one type of fluorescent light than the other. Whilst these types of lights work in a broadly similar fashion insofar that they all use tubes, there is a great deal of difference in the quality of light they produce. Why does the standard of lighting matter?

That leads us to the problems that poor lighting can cause
There are two issues with fluorescent lighting which can cause problems. The first is the standard of lighting diffuser in use. The diffuser is the cover fitted to the lighting unit and is typically made from plastic or aluminum. Poor quality diffusers create glare, which can make monitor screens very difficult to read.

The second problem has to do with the actual quality of tubes used in the light fitting. Cheap tubes render colors poorly with everything seeming to have either a yellow or bleached hue to it and this in turn affects screen readability. More often than not both problems go hand in hand.

What is the best way to minimize these issues?
By fitting better quality diffusers the light is spread more evenly and in a more focused way, which is all part of diffuser design. This significantly reduces screen glare because of better light distribution.

Replacing cheap tubes with good quality ones will reflect colors accurately so that everything looks normal and natural. Tubes are rated by a temperature scale and blah, blah, blah… Of course it may just be that you are unable to make changes to the lighting in your office, in that instance where do you go from here?

What if you can’t alter the lighting?
If poor lighting is causing screen glare and you are unable to make changes to the lighting then fitting an anti-glare screen to your monitor should improve things significantly.

It’s also worth considering some form of task lighting to help counter the ceiling lights and if strategically placed may be enough to overcome the problem.

Where it’s possible to remove tubes from the ceiling lights around your work area a freestanding uplighter could help things significantly. Uplighters as their name suggests send light upwards and it is then reflected back down off the ceiling and doesn't cause glare problems. Despite these ideas if your desk is in the wrong place, glare can still be a hassle.

This brings us to the final point the importance of where you sit
Even if you have all the right sort of lighting poor positioning can negate all the benefits and still leave you with glare problems. The reason this can happen is down to natural daylight. You should always avoid sitting with your back to an outside window. This is because on bright sunny days the outside light can be so strong that you literally can’t see anything on your screen. The light power of the sun is far stronger than the light output of your computer screen leaving it unreadable and appearing to be switched off.

What if you can’t alter where you sit?
Where you have no option in arranging your desk position and sunlight is causing major glare issues, there are a couple of alternative solutions.

First, you could fit a blind to the outside window, however most blinds still let some light through and so you can end up with streaks of light on your screen. The best blind to use is a black out blind as it is designed to block all light, however they are expensive and a little unsightly.

Second, fitting an anti-glare screen to your monitor would help, however in really bright sunlight it still may not be enough.

Let’s wrap up the main points we've covered here:

  • Office lighting quality varies a lot, good diffusers and tubes cut glare
  • An anti-glare screen or alternative lighting may well help with glare problems
  • Never sit with your back to a window if at all possible, if unavoidable fit blinds

If working in your office is a lot like driving into winter sunshine, use these tips to tackle the problem.

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Is Your Office Lighting Causing You Working Discomfort?

An area which is often overlooked is office lighting and if poorly set up can frequently create a lot of problems with screen glare.

If your work space is poorly lit you may find you suffer from eye strain, headaches or back and neck pain caused by putting your body in awkward positions because of inadequate lighting.

Where you work near to a window it's important to have your office chair correctly positioned, you shouldn't sit with your back to the window as bright sunlight on your VDU can make it unreadable.

Instead, make sure you are facing the window to avoid direct sunlight hitting your screen. Where it is unavoidable and you have to have a window behind you, look to fitting a window blind so you can control the amount of natural light entering your work area.

If your office has fluorescent lighting it’s important to fit a good quality diffuser to the fitting which has been designed to remove glare and spread light evenly over the work area. Where this isn't possible you will often find adding task lighting can help to illuminate the desk area removing shadows and giving a more even light distribution.

Another way of tackling this problem is by fitting an anti-glare screen to your VDU screen, these simply clip over your display screen and have polarizing filters designed to cut out glare problems.

Steelcase has an interesting article on office lighting and you will also find further information on anti-glare screens here.

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