By Jennifer Pattison Tuohy

As regular readers of the Small Business Bonfire blog already know, the design of your workspace is crucial to both creativity and productivity. Whether your workspace is a traditional office, a bakery, or a warehouse, how it is lit is arguably the most important element in its design.

The owners of The New York Times know this, that’s why they invested in a complete lighting plan to reduce energy consumption and boost productivity, creating an “energizing work environment.” As part of that plan, every floor in the company’s flagship, glass-fronted building in New York City had its lighting scheme divided into zones, each with its own lighting levels that fit the specific needs of the employees situated there.

The Times Company executives reported increased employee satisfaction and, combined with the use of LED lighting, light level tuning, daylight harvesting and occupancy sensing, a savings of nearly 70 percent of its annual lighting energy use.

This case study, and your own senses, should make it clear that bad lighting sucks up energy from both your employees and your bottom line. Lighting accounts for at least 28 percent of energy use in an average office building and poor lighting contributes to health issues such as eye strain, eye irritation, headaches, blurred vision and stiff necks.

Fixing both these problems will save you money and make you money — as you see productivity and employee morale grow. Use these tips to help bring your small business into the light.

1. Keep It Natural

Natural light is the perfect counterpart to the ills of bad lighting. The more natural light you can welcome in, the better. Save money by optimizing daylight and limiting electric light through installing daylight-sensitive lighting that dims automatically when it senses natural light, and brightens in its absence.

2. Don’t Over Light

When natural lighting isn’t sufficient, selecting the right artificial lighting is even more crucial. But don’t go overboard – the solution to bad lighting is often less lighting, because over-lit spaces can affect productivity. Too much light can make many tasks, such as working at a computer, much harder to do.

3. Take It Task-by-Task

Task-based lighting is the perfect solution to almost every problem created by too little or too much light. Task-based lighting is tailored to the activity happening in the illuminated space. For example, lighting for paperwork should be 2 to 3 times brighter than lighting for computer work. To determine the best task-based lighting for a space, keep in mind that a good visual environment needs:

  • sufficient light, coming from the right direction without causing shadows;
  • to provide good contrast between the task and the background;
  • to limit glare and harsh contrasts; and
  • to provide the right type of light.

4. Be Indirect

In a typical office workspace, the right type of light is a diffused light that illuminates a whole space. Diffused lighting softens and helps minimize glare. Location is also crucial. Placing it behind a workspace will cause shadows. The ceiling is the obvious spot, but rows of fluorescent bulbs are unattractive and headache inducing. The best solution is a row of elegant pendant lights, which when strategically placed will offer indirect lighting, or when placed directly above a workspace will cast directional, diffused down lighting. Paired with LED bulbs, pendant lighting is easily the best solution for the modern workspace.

5. Take the LED

One LED bulb uses about 80 percent less energy to generate the same amount of light as one incandescent light bulb. It will also last 25 times longer, on average, saving you substantially on your bottom line. LEDs are also good for down lighting, because it is naturally a directional light source. If you have been put off by that bluish glow associated with LEDs, fret not. The light output and color quality of LEDs have advanced to be very similar to that of traditional incandescents.

6. Get Dimmers

Providing employees with personal control of their lighting has been proven to significantly increase productivity and motivation. Add simple dimming switches in personal office spaces and conference rooms to allow them complete control. Additionally, dimming a light bulb by 25 percent will save 20 percent of the energy it would normally use, and extend its life.

Use these simple steps to help create your own energizing work environment and see productivity and profits blossom like flowers in the sun.