Natural light and outdoor views improve workers’ cognitive performance

New research from the Well Living Lab, a Delos™ and Mayo Clinic collaboration, shows that office areas with windows, which provide people with natural light and views of the outdoors, improve workers' cognitive performance and satisfaction with their office environment.

Modern shading and glass tinting techniques can mitigate eyestrain, reducing discomfort from daylight glare.

These findings are published in the November volume of Building and Environment. The study was conducted by researchers from the fields of environmental, health and behavioral science.

As part of the study, participants moved into in a simulated office setting matching their regular office cubicles. There, they went about their normal work activities for 14 weeks while environment and behavior were monitored. They brought their personal artifacts and work tools with them.

The simulated office space had east- and north-facing windows, and all participants sat an equal distance from the windows. Every two weeks, participants were exposed to a different window condition: mesh shades, dynamically tinted windows or blackout shades to remove daylight and view.

The dynamic tinting windows used an algorithm to automatically adjust to darker tints in the mornings to prevent daylight glare and returned to a state that was not tinted by midday. Participants could adjust the mesh shade height and window tinting amounts to their preference. All other conditions, such as electric lighting, temperature, humidity and ventilation, were consistently maintained.

Three aspects of cognitive function were measured daily: working memory, inhibition and task switching. Eye health, including eyestrain, fatigue, irritability, focus and blurred vision, were evaluated by a questionnaire. The employees also reported their satisfaction with their office environment, such as their reactions to the workspace overall, and lighting for computer- and paper-based work.

Cognitive function improved when participants had access to daylight and view in their office area. Specifically, their ability to hold and manipulate items in memory and their ability to inhibit responses increased. Task switching was not affected by the various study conditions.

Both the mesh shading and dynamic tinting resulted in the same degree of improved cognitive performance, compared to blackout conditions.

Eyestrain also lessened when employees had access to daylight and view from the windows, with no difference between the two types of shading. Environmental satisfaction also improved with window access.

When the workspace had the windows blacked out, the No. 1 change that employees wanted was window access. When they experienced mesh shades and dynamic tinting, their top desired improvement varied from noise to temperature to privacy.

We've added to the growing evidence that the ability to see the outdoors has a positive impact. Other studies have shown access to daylight and views reduces stress, improves mood and lowers absenteeism from work -; and even that employees make fewer mistakes. Additional studies can build upon these findings to help complete the picture that is emerging: that windows are good for us."

Brent Bauer, M.D.

Bauer is the medical director of the Well Living Lab and principal investigator on the study for Mayo Clinic.

The Well Living Lab recognizes that not everyone with an office job can have access to daylight and views, and offers these tips:

  • Bring nature inside, such as plants or a water feature. Decorate with nature scenes, such as photos and paintings, screen savers and cutouts from magazines.
  • Use natural elements in the design of the workspace, including wood and stone.
  • Listen to nature recordings on your headset or stream videos showing woods, lakes, flowers or other elements of nature that you find enjoyable.
  • Use breaks to walk outside.

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The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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