Lighting Your Home Office: Increasing Productivity and Professionalism
As many of us have shifted to working from home, the physical condition of our home offices has become more important. In the past, we could get away with a desk in the guest bedroom, but with more and more companies considering letting their leases run out our need for professional home offices have become more dire. This article is written to provide you with basic knowledge about workspace lighting that can be implemented as simple adaptations or that can be utilized in a larger renovation project. If you’re currently renovating or working with a design professional, be sure to review your design against our suggestions to ensure that you’ll be happy with your new space.
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Two types of lighting are important for a home office: Ambient and Task lighting.
Ambient lighting is the light that fills the room, illuminating the walls, ceiling, and floor. Task lighting is the purpose-based lighting that allows you to complete a task more effectively. Successful spaces always utilize a combination of the two to provide layers of lighting. Workspaces have specific lighting requirements to avoid computer screen glare and eye fatigue. Video conferencing has different lighting requirements than most other forms of work, therefore it has been difficult for people to transition from professional in-person meetings to professional virtual meetings.
When considering fixtures for the ambient lighting in your home office, make sure that you select shades and locations which reduce glare and hot spots. Glare, in the context of a home office, is a term that has two meetings: 1. Uncomfortable fixture brightness, and 2. Reflections off screens or shiny surfaces. Hot spots are bright lights in the background of your camera view which negatively affect video quality. As a general, you’ll find that fixtures that illuminate vertical surfaces (walls, art, shelving, plants, etc.), or which have translucent shades will provide ambient lighting without creating glare or hot spots.
Task lighting is equally as important as ambient lighting. The most important thing to remember when designing any type of task lighting is to reduce “visual clutter”, which is described as uneven or irregular lighting. As authors Gary Gordon, IALD, IES and James L. Nuckolls, IALD wrote in the third edition of Interior Lighting for Designers, Visual clutter can be a real drain on productivity because “the brain becomes overstimulated, spending additional time and energy sorting out conflicting information. (…) it is analogous to noise or static in acoustical design.” In most home office environments visual clutter is found when downlights create scallops on the walls, when light fixtures create hot spots and glare, when a fixture is “out of place”, when your table lamp is much brighter than the rest of the room, etc. In general, task surfaces should be lit more brightly than the surrounding spaces; however, avoid creating high contrast, which can also be a form of visual clutter and which can cause eye strain. Concepts in Architectural Lighting, written by M. David Egan, suggests that we should maintain a ratio of 3:1 between the task surface and the surrounding room. Additionally, if you can reduce visual clutter by lining up like-lighting in the ceiling/on the walls. If you have scallops on the walls, introduce a lower ambient light, such as a floor lamp, to help soften the difference between light and dark.
The main tasks in a home office are computer work, paperwork, and video calls. We'll review each task and how lighting impacts the user's ability to perform their tasks effectively. The strategies of task lighting can also be implemented to create a third layer of lighting for décor.
Computer work productivity and eye strain are heavily impacted by the lighting in your workspace. People experience eye strain when the subject (screen) is much brighter than the surroundings. The goal should be to get your computer screen to be a similar experience to reading from paper or some other physical medium. To achieve this goal, brighten the space behind your monitor so that contrast is reduced. When introducing brightness in your view, keep in mind that you want to avoid discomfort from glare. You also want to be mindful of reflective glare; most newer computer screens have a matte finish, which helps reduce reflective glare. If your monitor does not, position your lighting so that it shines behind your monitor or to the side of your monitor. These strategies will brighten the space behind your monitor, reduce reflective glare, and can be free of discomfort glare depending on the light fixture you choose.
The eye fatigue experienced during paperwork can be increased by many factors, most notably age, font size, and lighting. While we can’t roll back the clock or print your text larger, we can provide insights to improve the quality of your lighting. Simply shining a bright light onto your paperwork might not always be the right strategy because direct lighting over a desk can create problematic shadows from the user leaning over the desk. Two strategies can be considered depending on the reflectivity of your desk surface. When the desk has a satin or matte finish, you can utilize a table lamp with an opaque shade below your eye level to provide illumination on the subject (paperwork) and desk without creating shadows or glare. When the desk has a polished finish, you can consider a more remote task light that shines onto your desktop from an angle. This can be done with a downlight on either side of your desk, or a lamp 4’-5’ away from your desk, or it could be increasing the ambient light in the room to suit the needs of your eyes.
Video Conferencing requires a different lighting strategy than computer work or paperwork because the subject is the user. Video requires you, the subject, to be well lit to capture your image naturally. Direct or indirect lighting your face will provide enough lighting for the video to focus on the correct subject and will allow you to appear naturally on screen. Any direct lighting should not be too bright to cause you to squint. If your direct lighting cannot be dimmed to be comfortable or raised to be less in your field of vision, you can shine the light source on a surface behind your monitor to create indirect lighting. Aside from your discomfort, you don't want the lighting on your face to be too bright. Cameras are sensitive to lighting; therefore bright light will cause the rest of the image to dim. This is true of any bright light in the camera view: hot spots in the background, such as a lamp or window, can cause the rest of the image to dim. If you’re looking for a free fix to video camera lighting, consider placing your monitors in front of a north-facing window with blinds. The brightness of the window can be adjusted via the blinds to let light in onto your face during video calls or can be reduced to match the brightness of your computer screen when performing computer work. This solution will be weather dependent but can be an option to consider depending on your home office layout.
Decor and Accent Lighting
Décor and accent lighting can be the finishing touch in a home office, especially if you are a business owner. Displaying your diploma(s), artwork, and awards can help you affirm yourself and your business in both the eyes of your employees/clients and in your own eyes. We all feel pride when we think about our achievements, so it’s natural to display them and light them well. If your subject (artwork, diploma, certificate) is wall-mounted, you can consider adjustable downlights located in a regular pattern along your display wall or art lighting located over each piece. If your subject is 3-dimensional (artwork, award), you might want to consider shelving with integrated lighting. When keeping any displayed item behind glass, keep in mind the impact of reflections on the ability to view the material. Additionally, any framed item should take the frame thickness into account so that the lighting on your display, can be as even as possible.
Adjusting the lighting in your home office is art and science, something that we’re not all good at. If you feel that you need professional guidance Rebar Lighting Design can help curate your home office lighting to maximize your productivity and professionalism.