Category Archives: Facilities

Turn On The Lights

Sunsets are nice. They have beautiful colors and signal the end of the day. They inspire poetry and song. All in all though, I think I prefer sunrises. They signal the onset of a new day. They also inspire poetry and songs although I don’t think quite as many poems and songs as sunsets. Apparently the preponderance of poets and musicians are not up early enough to see sunrises, but do manage to see the sunsets. Go figure. I like sunrises because it is nature’s way of turning on the lights.

When I was a younger person, a long, long time ago, I used to enjoy the night. The sunset would happen (very nice) and then life would begin. As I have gotten older I have now found that the nights are a particularly nice time for sleeping. Perhaps I am fortunate in that I usually have no need for any type of sleep aid other than turning out the lights. My children don’t seem to share this affinity for sleep and hence I don’t seem to be able to sleep as much at night as I would like.

I do get up earlier than them though. Most of the time I get up before sunrise and despite some of my more mischievous urges, I do not go and wake them up as early as I have awoken just to get even with them for keeping me up the night before…..usually.

It seems to me that there is now something of a direct relationship between my energy levels and the amount of light present in my environment. I don’t think I am entirely unique in this respect. I think everyone has had discussions with their friends regarding low energy levels and “blah” days when it is rainy or cloudy outside as opposed to bright sunny days. I know my kids do, but I normally attribute this to the fact that they have probably been up most of the night surfing the internet, playing video games or talking to their friends on the cell phones instead of sleeping like I was trying to do.

Even plants, I guess especially plants do better in the light since their vital link in the ecological chain is to convert light energy and carbon dioxide into chemical energy and oxygen. I find I am very partial to that oxygen thing. The key here is the use of light energy to enable the performance of a necessary task.

Now you may wonder what this relatively long harangue about light in its various forms has to do with business. I will now get to that. After travelling to multiple domestic and international locations over the last several years, I have arrived at significant question:

Is it just me or do our work environments seem to be getting darker?

To this point I am going to make what I think is a subtle but necessary distinction between “sufficient light” and “necessary light” in the office environment. Sufficient light is the amount of light required to conduct day to day functions in your office (or cube) without straining or otherwise causing damage to your eyesight. Necessary light is the amount of light required to generate a brightness or energy in the office environment that adds rather than detracts from your emotional state.

There is obviously sufficient light in our physical business environments for us to conduct our work. This is not a question. Perhaps I am getting older (obviously) or it may just be my imagination but I don’t remember offices being this dark last century.

I threw that “last century” remark in to give a little more feeling to the idea of in times past.

I understand the ideas associated with energy conservation and the high cost of utilities, but could we actually be dimming our office environments in an effort to save money? I have been in many different buildings over time. I seem to remember a time when most office ceiling light fixtures contained the larger (slightly over two inches in diameter) fluorescent tubes. We used to complain about how the bright fluorescent light made us all look so pale.

Now when I look up I see fewer of the larger brighter bulbs, or I see them replaced with the new one inch diameter bulbs, or I see even fewer of the one inch diameter bulbs. I looked it up. The new bulbs use about twenty percent less energy, but they produce about ten percent less light. From an efficiency point of view getting a twenty percent cost reduction while suffering only a ten percent performance reduction is a good trade to make, initially.

It seems that businesses are using fewer light bulbs, and the bulbs that they are using are producing less light.

Now this is a little thing, but in a business environment where we want to capture every iota of efficiency have we possibly missed something here? I understand the hard dollar savings associated with lower energy consumption for lighting the work place. What I am concerned about is the potential soft dollar loss associated with reduction in the efficiency of our teams by making the work environment just that little bit less friendly, appealing, and yes, energetic.

I am not saying that adding lights or generating / providing more lumens in the office will immediately improve productivity. I am saying that it is probably one of the steps that will need to be taken in addition to many others if we are serious about reenergizing (there is that “energy” word again) our work places.

When people started working from virtual offices instead of the standard brick and mortar office we seemed to have lost some of the human interaction and energy that made our organizations vibrant. When we started to implement the energy cost saving measures that seem to have further added to the darkening of our offices (possibly because it is believed that there are not as many people there now so not as much light is needed) we seem to have further reduced the overall energy level of our offices.

I think it is time to turn on or turn up the lights and brighten our work places. I have said in the past that I also believe we need to find ways to get people out of their virtual offices and back into the business environment where they interact face to face. We need to put energy back into our office environments, the light energy that even plants need, but especially the people energy that the business needs. If you are going to try to put the people back in the office, you will need to turn up the lights for them.

Not to go too far overboard here, but I do seem to recall a pretty important quote on this topic. I think it went:

“Let there be light.”

Doors

Doors are great inventions. Ever since the first cave man rolled the big rock across the opening of his cave to keep the saber-toothed tigers out when they were rummaging around for a late night snack, doors have served a purpose. They keep the undesirables out. They can let people in. They help turn on the light in the refrigerator when you want to get a late night snack. I do however think we have crossed into a questionable area on the relative utility of doors when we decided to put doors on cubes in the office.

That’s right, doors on cubes.

A closed door can present several messages. It can tell the world that you are busy and don’t want to be bothered. It can say that no one is home. It can say that I don’t want you to see what I am doing behind this closed door. I just can’t figure out what a door on a cube does. Especially a door that has glass windows in it.

Cubes were invented in the nineteen sixties by the Herman Miller Company. Until that time working space in the business consisted of rows of desks in an open room, very similar to the classrooms within schools, only with bigger desks. It seems Herman Miller was not satisfied with selling just desks to businesses so they came up with a modular arrangement that allowed them to sell walls and desks to businesses, thereby creating and expanding their market. It is rumored that they got the idea while watching a behavioral study in which a rodent was challenged to make its way through an ever changing labyrinth to get to its cheese.

However business was not entirely happy with the initial wall arrangement and required that the walls be lower so that management could continue to actually see employees doing their work. Hence the birth of the cube. A work area that gave the occupant the impression of having privacy while giving management the ability to continue to monitor the occupant.

The cube has evolved over time. Initially there were just cubes. Now there are low walled cubes, medium height walled cubes and high walled cubes. There are cubes of different sizes and various pleasing pastel color combinations. The idea here is that as you advance up the ranks of the organization, the height of the walls and the size of your working area advance along with you. Eventually, hopefully you reach a station in your business where your cube walls reach all the way to the ceiling and the size of your working area can support (gasp) the same stand alone desk that people had before there were cubes. When these work area standards are met, this is now called an office. Offices usually have doors, not cubes.

The doors on offices are usually solid with no windows. If you have walls to the ceiling and you close the door it is because you want something called privacy. Having a door with windows would seem to defeat this concept; hence most office doors do not have windows. We have all walked past closed office doors and wondered if anyone was in there, and if they were, what were they doing? If they had wanted you to know they would have left the door open.

Which brings me back to my original questions. Since when, and why, are they putting doors on cubes? We have already stated that the walls of the cube do not reach all the way to the ceiling, so putting a door on them cannot appreciable increase the privacy. This is especially apparent due to the fact that it seems that most of the doors that they are putting on cubes have windows in them.

So let’s review: the walls of the cube do not reach all the way to the ceiling so there is not much privacy when it comes to sound or noise containment. The doors that are being put on the cubes do not reach to the ceiling either so no help there. The doors that are being put on the cubes consist of a basic frame, the center of which is entirely made of windows. Windows made of transparent glass.

They are adding a door, something that can be closed as a sign of desired privacy, to a work area with walls that don’t reach the ceiling, and putting windows in it so that you cannot in fact get any privacy by closing it.

These guys at Herman Miller are brilliant.

What else can you say about a company that convinces their target market that they need to buy something that does not in fact deliver the functionality that it was designed to do, since the first cave man rolled the rock across the opening of his cave? These guys are now selling desks, walls and doors that still achieve the same functionality and privacy that was present when they were just selling desks into large open environments.

Now the only other explanation for this door on a cube concept that I have been able to come up with is that companies have come to the conclusion that the leap from open cube to closed office was just too great for most employees to be able to make. Having to go from low walls and no doors, directly into an area where the walls reached the ceiling and the doors shut out both the sights and sounds of the business, where there could be privacy, may have just proved to be too much for some.

Businesses must have recognized this facility based chasm and worked out a step whereby managers would not have to hurtle directly from the no privacy at all of a cube into the privacy rich environment of an office. The solution was simple: put a door on the cube as a mid way point in the transition. Besides after all those years in a cube without a door, the inhabitants could probably use some practice in how to properly operate a door anyway.

Have you ever heard the phrase “Dumber than a door knob”? I am sure that businesses didn’t have to hear that description about their management too many times before they took action to assure that their management members had the requisite training, practice and abilities to successfully make the cube to office transition.

It seems that either through the marketing brilliance of modular furniture suppliers, or business management process doors for cubes is here to stay. I was not around for the truly open environment of just desks in a work area. I am sure that I did not enjoy the maze where my cube was located when I was looking for my cheese. I am just not convinced that the solution is to put doors on cubes.