My what lovely fluorescent lights you have. Will the office of the future have simulated skies above its worker drones?



Can Natural Light Make Employees More Productive?

That doesn’t mean just putting in more windows. A new, super high-tech ceiling makes it seem as though workers are outside. And it’s having impressive results.

You may not love your job, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could at least fill out your TPS reports under a natural sky rather than fluorescent lights?

That’s the idea behind a new lighting system from the German high-tech research firm Fraunhofer that it says "[conveys] the impression that you are sitting outdoors."

The "virtual sky" consists of 50-centimeter-square panels, each with 288 LED lights. Each panel has red, blue, green, and white LEDs, allowing the system to produce the full light spectrum and more than 16 million hues. A matte film diffuses the light, so the individual LEDs aren’t visible. As these programmed LEDs turn on and off they simulate the shifting light you’d experience sitting outside during a moderately cloudy day.

The picture above is of a prototype of the system that contains 34,560 LEDs spanning 34 square meters.

Apparently the effect is subtle, but pleasant. According to Dr. Matthias Bues, the head of Fraunhofer’s Institute for Industrial Engineering in Stuttgart, "The LEDs allow us to simulate … dynamic changes in lighting in a way that is not directly obvious to the naked eye. Otherwise the lighting might distract people from their work. But it does need to fluctuate enough to promote concentration and heighten alertness."

In an initial study, 10 volunteers conducted their daily work under one of these systems. For the first day, the light remained static. For the second day, the light fluctuated slowly. And for the third day, the light fluctuated more rapidly. On the fourth day, participants could choose which condition to work in and 80% chose the rapidly fluctuating light.

This isn’t the most energy efficient way of lighting a room, of course, and it isn’t cheap either. The current price is about 1,000 euros per square meter. But that said, it could point the way to better office environments. Natural light has been shown to raise students’ test scores (by 27%!), improve worker productivity, and promote healing in hospitals.

And that shouldn’t be surprising. After all, evolution didn’t optimize us for drab office parks.


Add New Comment


  • sydbarrett74

    Why not couple this product with solutions that pipe in natural sunlight using optical fibres? I see the two solutions as being complementary. During the day when there is plenty of sun, the sunlight/fibre thing can be used; when the sun sets or the daytime sky is overcast, these overhead LED's can be turned on. At any rate, anything is preferable to dreadful conventional fluorescent lights and their morgue-like glow.

  • Sarah

    I agree with the whole natural light idea - I would sell my a** sometimes to be close to a window at work, especially when its a 9 to 10 hour day. I work in cubicle land, it feels like, so only one wall running along the floor actually has access to natural lighting and those are occupied by management. The only thing about this lighting that I think is a little strange is actually the blue glow that comes from the ceiling in the pictures - maybe its just me. Either way, I don't see this as being possible in any company these days. I see this happening in smaller, private firms with the funds to spend or maybe as part of a general building renovation in the future. I don't why I thought of the whole renovation idea - I guess its because a friend just sent me the link to an online office/desk renovation contest called Pimp My Cube and this actually would make sense as a prize :/

  • Antoine Richardson

    Having natural light makes me a hundred times more comfortable in any situation, especially somewhere like work or class. Artificial lights just make me extremely restless such that I find it hard to concentrate.

    As cool as this sounds, I'd probably prefer to just have a real window or two. Though I guess in a room located somewhere like the middle of a building, this could be a godsend.

  • Russ

    I so agree!  Natural Light made me so productive in college!  It allowed me to stay up late and socialize at various bars and taverns while the next day it caused a flurry of activity to keep up in all my classes!  Also, it was a great cure for headaches that I may have the next day (although arguments could have been made that it caused my headaches to begin with).  I'm all for it!  Natural Light at work, at school, at home, everyday... heck, ALL day!  Woohoo!!  NATURAL LIGHT!  The best beer of my glory days!  Wait... isn't that we're talking about?....

  • Cathy Coloff

    Love the idea but concerned about the energy consumption.  Trying to be a green consumer!

  • David A. Gilbert

    For those concerned with the cost, I think the answer is to just wait.

    LED prices keep coming down and as energy costs rise, I think you'll see that continue.  For every innovation there have to be a small number of early adopters that subsidize the cost for the rest of us.

    What's more interesting to me right now is that this is getting people to talk about the fact that these productivity effects are real.  For every business that seriously considers high-end lighting, many more will consider skylights or letting people work wirelessly from the beach.

  • John Dugger

    I couldn't agree more with Dave's comment. This is like spending big bucks on a more fuel efficient car that delivers less than the listed mileage. Then there's the cradle to grave costs! I don't know about yur practice but in my 35 years the only buildings that have that high a price per square foot were hospitals and we got the whole building!

  • Dave Needham

    What about letting people work with their mobile phones and laptops when and where they want? Wouldn't that be a lot cheaper? I'd rather work under a real sky any day of the week.

  • Archipapi

    You're damn right! but you know, all those creative brains have to work flat out to save the planet and find ways to save energy.
    Why would we want to save energy? energy is a manufactured product and the more we use, the
    more it is profitable to the economy. The new energies (2 to 8 times more costly than traditional ones) are a fiasco and will only survive through Government subsidies to producers and in turn paid
    by who you know.
    As for traditional energy, if we save for example 50%, the producer will in time bill us double (already started..) or lay off half their staff in which case we would have to pay for their unemployment. One
    way or another we are screwed.
    Sorry...I forgot CO2!  well, by now informed and objective people know that CO2 does not create any
    warming or cooling and fact is, the anthropogenic notion of climate change is on life-support.
    We have to realize that the energy problem is pure and simple "cerebral masturbation" for some and
    political agenda for others.


  • Stephen Barty

    Surely justifiable for big budget feature areas only! There are less expensive and similarly effective ways to do this as demonstrated by other manufacturer studies...

  • Rhythm88

    This phenomenon is already being practiced utilizing the "true" natural light, the sun!  It's called keeping the shades open!  For interior office space however, there's potential!