According to the New York Times, at least 316 million Americans are now being urged to stay home to prevent the spread of Covid-19. For those of us with non-essential office jobs, we are now entering our third or fourth week of working from home, with no clear end in sight. For many of us, working from home is not entirely new, we are lucky to have space, broadband internet and computers to work effectively outside the office.
However, the demands of working while also dealing with children and home schooling, added to the stress of social isolation, make this difficult. Articles and blog posts abound on how to manage this situation: for example, that we should not worry so much about kids’ greatly increased screen time, or how we can avoid burnout while working from home by separating work from the other aspects of our lives, and how to co-work at home with others (without driving each other nuts).
These challenges may impact both our well-being and our productivity. Many people find that getting outside for breaks and walks is an effective way to relieve stress and feel refreshed. Also, a solid body of scientific evidence shows that more time spent in nature is associated with better health and well-being, as explored in Florence Williams’ popular 2017 book on the science around this idea. However, when we are not able to be out in nature physically, we may derive some benefits simply by access to windows and views, something available to many of us when working from home. A study completed last year at CBE and recently published, found that a view from a window has positive impacts on emotion, cognitive performance and thermal comfort. The researchers have summarized the results in this LinkedIn post, and a free version of the full paper is online.
The work was led by graduate student Won Hee Ko, with support of several CBE researchers and UC Berkeley faculty from architecture and psychology, using 86 subjects in CBE’s controlled environmental chamber that had been divided into spaces with and without window views. The researchers found that subjects had small but significant improvements in positive emotions (happy, satisfied, content) as well as reductions in negative emotions (sad, lonely, unhappy). Subjects also performed slightly better on some cognitive tests, including working memory (6 percent better) and concentration tests (5 percent better). A surprising finding was that subjects with window access also experienced the thermal environment as more comfortable and pleasant, and 12 percent of subjects found the slightly warm test environment to be cooler.
The researchers are currently building on this work by developing a new ‘view quality’ index to better inform the design of building facades and windows. The index will be based on prevailing recommendations in standards and scientific literature, and on a new laboratory study CBE’s team is currently planning.
The researchers conclude their recent paper by noting that providing window views in a workplace is important for the comfort, well-being, and productivity of occupants. While we are enduring the stresses of isolation and distraction while working from home, we should give ourselves permission to get outside, or simply to gaze out from our windows.