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Offices are increasingly being designed with flexibility in mind as the benefits of having a mix quiet work zones, collaborative areas and open plan workstations is finally being understood. The science already shows that creating flexible areas for private work, collaboration and informal and formal meetings can be a real boost to office morale, and help growing businesses thrive. However recent research shows that colour can be a key, and often overlooked, factor in modern office design.
Research by Mariana Figueiro, a professor at the Lighting Research Center at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has found that colour, and in particular, the colour of lighting can have a significant effect on worker behaviour.
“Clients are increasingly requesting and expecting lighting systems and applications that can support human health and well-being,” said Figueiro
The study measured “biomarkers” including brain activity, performance type, reaction times and alertness. Saturated blue colours were a positive influence for increasing alertness, especially for those who work a night shift.
The researchers found that 460-nanometer blue simulated a bright daytime sky and affected the circadian rhythm allowing for greater attention to tasks when there was no natural light to be found.
The reason behind this is our eye’s daylight detectors are most sensitive to. Halogen and fluorescent lights don’t have that frequency, which often leaves workers feeling both tired and irritable. Researchers got the idea after noticing that 460-nanometer blue is now often used to correct poor circadian rhythms, sleep disorders and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
But researchers didn’t stop at sky blue. They also found that saturated red colours, 640 nanometers, have a strong alerting effect without decreasing the hormone melatonin, which the blue light is known to do.
“We have found having red light is like drinking a cup of coffee — it gives you alert effect without suppressing the melatonin.” said Figueiro “It’s novel and people are starting to think about these kinds of solutions,”
So should we all run out and deck our offices in 640-nanometer red across every wall?
Not so fast says Angela Wright, a world-renown colour psychologist. In her extensive research on office colour and productivity, she has noted that whilst blue and red have benefits, green can be a very calming colour that can put workers at ease, even on long shifts, whilst a stimulating yellow in small doses can give a big boost to creativity.
But it’s not just the colour itself that can have an effect, it’s the saturation. Faded colours creating a more subtle and soothing effect, with saturated bright colours creating more intense effects.
Perhaps even more interestingly, when you combine more than one colour, you will often get the effects of both of them. For example, if you combine a highly-saturated yellow with a highly-saturated blue, you will get a colour that stimulates both your creativity and alertness.
Whilst there might not be a perfect colour scheme to cookie cutter into any office, the research shows that with a little bit of digging and an understanding of your workers and their needs can be a real boost to office productivity.
But colour is just one part of creating a flexible, vibrant, and healthy work environment that your workers will want to come to every single day.