Hiring and keeping good people is—no argument—the number one challenge I hear among my clients and other small business owners.

Many of them, like me, struggle to offer compensation and benefits that are competitive with the larger organizations that compete with us for talent. Every year, we revisit these benefits and ask ourselves what more we could be doing: Higher salaries? Better healthcare? More flexible paid time off? A generous retirement plan?

While all of these things are important, it turns out that employees actually desire something more: light.

Yes, light. Natural light, to be more specific.

Let There Be Light

In a recent survey of more than 1,600 workers in North America, an HR advisory and research firm called Future Workplace found that the number one attribute desired by employees in a workplace environment was access to natural light and/or views of the outdoors. So much so, that this benefit outranked such popular employee benefits as employee cafeterias, fitness centers, and even onsite daycare.

“The notion that the creation of the workplace environment is solely a real estate concern is an outdated concept,” Jeanne C. Meister, one of the study’s authors and a partner at Future Workplace wrote in Harvard Business Review. “Today, employers recognize that the workplace environment is now part of the overall employee experience equation and a key lever to attract, engage, and retain top talent.”

The study found that not having natural light or outdoor views is actually detrimental to the happiness and productivity of employees. More than one-third of employees said that they don’t have enough natural light in their offices, and 47% said they felt “tired” or “very tired” because of the lack of light or a window (43% reported feeling “gloomy”).

This Topic Is Trending

Many big companies have already taken notice of this trend. According to Meister, Airbnb’s Portland call center features a large open space with access to natural light and views of the outside. Overstock.com’s 230,000-square-foot office has panoramic views of the surrounding Salt Lake Valley with “smart” windows that automatically adjust to optimize the natural daylight and shield the glare of the sun on computer workstations.

Amazon’s downtown Seattle workspace has enough natural light flowing through it to support more than 40,000 plants. The trend toward providing more workplaces that use natural light has even led to some European Union countries’ mandating that employees have proximity to windows as part of the national building codes.

I know what you’re thinking—sounds nice if you’re a big company like Amazon with deep pockets. You’re right. Creating this kind of environment can be expensive and, if you’re running a small business, resources are tight. But I’m sure you agree that providing access to sunlight and the outdoors does make sense. It does have a biologically positive impact on human beings and the more you can offer this kind of exposure, the happier and more productive your workforce might be.

What Options Do You Have?

You could redesign your offices, get rid of the cubicles, and create more open spaces. That way, if you do have windows, the people sitting toward the middle of the room have a better chance of catching a glimpse of the sun. Plus, studies have shown that this environment provides for a more conducive and friendlier team experience. Prospective employees, particular younger ones, are more inclined to be drawn to offices with this type of open plan arrangement if only because it’s more contemporary and common in larger offices.

You also could encourage more outdoor activities. Stick a few picnic tables or benches around your building, if possible, so that people can eat lunch or take a break outdoors. Bring in a basketball net for when employees want to let off steam. Even arranging with a food truck to come by once a week entices workers to leave their desks and catch a few rays while picking up a sandwich. A grocery store near me conducts yoga classes outside twice a week before the doors open. Another client I know put shuffleboard courts outside their offices and there is literally nothing more fun in this world than a competitive game of shuffleboard—even if you’re under 85 years of age.

What’s the Takeaway?

Data shows that the more you give your people access to natural light—the sun, the outdoors—the happier and more productive they’ll be, and the better work environment you’ll create. This, in turn, will help you retain the best of them and perhaps attract a few more. Sunscreen, anyone?

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One Response to "Can You Guess the #1 Office Perk? The Answer May Surprise You"

    • John Baldwin | April 8, 2019 at 10:54 am

      Natural light is a good thing… but Open Spaces are not all they are cracked up to be!

      Take it from a professional who has seen numerous workspaces from “totally open” to “a rabbit warren of tiny windowless offices.” Open workspaces REDUCE productivity.

      Yes, you read that right. The open workspace concept actually reduces productivity.

      Some types of workers thrive on open workspaces, because collaboration is the predominant force in their workday. For these workers — and these workers only — open workspaces are the order of the day and should be a top priority to provide.

      For most other types of office workers, the open workspace is a constant tax on their attention. “Just use noise cancelling headphones, with nature sounds or music or white noise!” While this *helps* the situation, workers shouldn’t be required to provide their own, and shouldn’t be required to FIGHT to shut out distractions and get their work done.

      For certain types of workers, an open workspace is the death of getting ANYTHING done. For example, for IT support people, it is an open invitation to “drop on by” and interrupt with the problem of the moment, instead of creating a trouble ticket and letting the support department properly triage the crises of the day.

      For software developers, researchers, designers, and other similar jobs, the problem is particularly pernicious! There exists a mental state called “flow” — and it is VITAL for these people to achieve this on a regular basis. There are 7 requirements for entering (and remaining in) the flow state, and one of them is “No Distractions!” It takes at least 20 minutes to enter the flow state in a perfect environment.

      And all it takes to yank your employee OUT of that state is a well-meaning colleague asking, “hey, can I ask you something… IT’LL ONLY TAKE A MINUTE…”

      THUD. Unless they are very good at remaining in flow (AND… bluntly say “No” to any requests!), your VERY expensive creative worker has come to a screeching halt, and will take at least 20 minutes before they are again working at maximum efficiency.

      In some open spaces, creative workers NEVER achieve the flow state. And it is costing their employers millions.

      Instead of purely open spaces, consider:

      * A mix of open spaces for collaborative workers and more closed-off areas for “flow” workers.

      * Skylights or special lighting for areas where you can’t have windows.

      * Investing in significant noise abatement technology! Hard surfaces may be pretty, but they allow noise to echo and carry further than it normally would. Soft surfaces on walls, ceilings, and other places help make for a pleasantly productive workspace…. and offer opportunities for spectacular use of color or art. Banners or flags hung from the ceiling help break up that large open space overhead where sound can otherwise carry for long distances.

      * Plan for a LOT of meeting spaces of various sizes (2 people, 4, 8, 16, or more) for when “flow” workers need to collaborate. This is one thing that most open space designs get right, but you don’t need an open design to do it!

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