For centuries, people worked outside, beneath the sun and sky. Then came factories. And fluorescent-lighted cubicle farms, and the dim and gloomy grind of a day at the office.
Some companies are trying to change that. They’re paying for space with big windows and skylights, knocking down light-blocking walls, reconfiguring offices to let the sun shine deep into the space, and generally trying to remind employees that there’s a big world out there — even if it’s on the other side of the windows.
It’s an investment, employers say, that boosts productivity and employee retention. They may be on to something. Recent studies have shown that workers value natural light and outdoor views, and that maximizing natural light can improve health and wellness.
Here are a few companies seeking light.
At this fast-growing e-mail security company, employees have always had good light.
The company’s first local office was at Waltham’s Watch Factory, with big windows originally designed for watchmakers to see their work. Then came an office in Watertown, where even basement space was fitted with window-like opaque glass to create “the illusion of daylight,” says chief executive Peter Bauer. And before moving this year to the massive old Stride Rite building in Lexington, management took pains to punch huge windows into the concrete walls and make an enormous, almost-building-long skylight the centerpiece of a three-story atrium.
“Our people are used to being treated like plants,” Bauer says. “We’re addicted to light.”
It’s good business, he says, sitting in a conference room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a leafy stretch of Route 128. Giving workers something to look at beyond their cubes can help jog their minds. And that can fuel the next big idea that powers the company.
“We solve problems,” Bauer says. “And the best solutions come to you when you create the conditions where that might happen.”
Walk into the civil engineering firm’s office in Center Plaza in downtown Boston, and the first thing you see is a picture-window view of City Hall. Turn the corner and there’s an equally grand view of the John Adams Courthouse. In fact, from pretty much everywhere in the 14,000-square-foot office, you can see at least one of the monumental buildings.
That’s by design. Nitsch moved in six years ago, drawn by the light coming through the windows and a space skinny enough that everybody’s close to at least one of them. It was a big change from the gloomy Leather District space the employees came from, says chief executive Lisa Brothers. And it was exactly what they needed.
“Our goal was to have as much daylight as possible,” she says. “It really makes a big difference, and it has been a great lift to our people.”
New England Biolabs
Unlike a lot of local life science companies, this biotech is not in Kendall Square, nor is it in an office park on Route 128. Not even close. For this organization, home is a 143-plus-acre estate in Ipswich lined with hiking trails and studded with statues. There’s even a century-old mansion repurposed as office space.
The main building is the centerpiece, glassy and open, with big windows and a vast skylight down the middle. Research labs look out on the bright atrium on one side and the verdant grounds on the other, with supply closets and equipment pushed into the middle to maximize views.
“We wanted everyone to have a view to the outside,” says chief executive Jim Ellard. “We don’t want anyone here working in a cave.”
Andy Gardner appreciates it. A scientific director in molecular enzymology, his lab has a view of the pond and woods, a constant reminder of the science he’s working on.
“A lot of our research is inspired by nature,” says Gardner, who has worked there since 1995. “Having these grand views of the woods and the trees, it’s inspiring. We’re surrounded by it.”
The Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank
When the bank started designing its new headquarters in Hyannis, it decided to turn the old office inside out. No more private offices lining the walls — and windows. Instead, conference rooms, bathrooms, and common space will be pushed to the center and the offices, bullpen-style desks, and open meeting spaces will hug the perimeter. The company even aligned the building on its 11-acre site to catch as much sun as possible.
“No matter where you sit, you’ll have a line of sight to the outdoors,” says chief financial officer Matt Burke.
The building will open next year, consolidating employees now located in four offices from Orleans to Hyannis. In a competitive industry, and in a region where hiring can be tough, the bank wants the pleasant work environment to help draw good employees.
“We’re hoping this’ll be a differentiator for us,” Burke says.