Your Office’s Fluorescent Lights Really Are Draining Your Will To Work

It’s not all in your head–toiling away in a cold, beige office under artificial light really does sap your soul. New research shows that you need light and warmth to do your best work–so open the blinds, already.

Your Office’s Fluorescent Lights Really Are Draining Your Will To Work

“Your environment has a huge impact on how productive you are,” Brendan Baker tells Buffer writer Leo Widrich. “That means the temperature in your room, the color of your walls, and the noise happening around you.”


Call it environmental productivity: the science of how your space supports (or handicaps) the work you do. It’s the kind of insight that design firms like Steelcase–which has an office anthropologist and has rethought virtual meetings— traffic in, with the goal of helping workers to thrive, rather than simply survive.

To that end, Widrich found key factors: light and warmth.

Natural light keeps you alert

We’ve all felt the brightly lit darkness of a minimally windowed, fluorescent-flooded workspace, and new research by Mirjam Muench shows just why artificial light looks (and feels) so damn hideous.

According to his study, people who had a diet of daylight were “significantly more alert” at the beginning of the evening while the sunshine-stricken were “significantly sleepier” at the end of the evening. The Swiss neuroscientist concludes that even short-term afternoon lighting conditions have an impact on evening task performance, which sheds some light on the 4 p.m. slump–we’re not getting enough sun.

Warmth keeps you going

Widrich finds a shocking statistic in a Cornell study: “When temperatures were low (68 degrees or 20 degrees Celsius), employees made 44% more mistakes than at optimal room temperature (77 degrees or 25 degrees Celsius).” The researchers describe “clear associations” between office work performance and indoor environment conditions, which as Fast Company observed, further evidences the productivity power of the thermostat.


What the chilliness does, Widrich notes, is keep you distracted: Feeling cold means you’ll be summoning energy to keep warm, rather than spending it on something more useful.

So how do you make the most of light and temperature?

  • Rise with the roosters: If you sleep in past sunrise, you’re missing out on health- (and productivity-) promoting sunshine.
  • Bring a heater: No matter what the thermostat is set at, heating won’t be distributed. So station one at your desk.
  • Step up your light game: Lensed/indirect lighting has long been linked with productivity, so upgrade your bulb and get to (better lit) work.

And while you’re add it, try adding some plants or an avant garde rocking chair.

The science of how temperature and lighting impacts our productivity

Drake Baer covers leadership for Fast Company. You can follow him on Twitter.

[Image: Flickr user Evan Leeson]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.