Office life is in a constant state of transition. While the 9 to 5 prevails in many cases, we're seeing organisations change in culture and with technology, producing more mobile and collaborative teams, and a breakdown of traditional roles and duties.

With these developments come changes in architecture, design, furnishings and equipment. The laptop is replacing the desktop, whilst mobile phones, tablets and other 'smart’ technologies are influencing how we organise both personally and collectively.

We have the potential for unprecedented amounts of freedom, but we're also more nomadic. Office workers no longer just move from cubicle to meeting room to the lunch room. We’re working from home, at the café and in shared public workspaces. We talk with colleagues in different time zones as if they were a mere cubicle over, and the technology that enables this makes the experience seem more personal than ever.

In short, things have changed, and will keep changing. We need lighting that can meet the demands of this change, that both complements natural light and enhances the atmosphere of our different workday scenes. Below we look at the types of lighting that are used in most offices, as well as some of the most popular layouts, with suggestions on how to light them better to make the most of your productivity.

The types of office lighting
and how they affect

Many office work environments still fail to recognise the difference lighting can make to their work areas. While there is no
'one size fits all’ in office lighting, there are best practice guidelines to determine which lighting fixtures work best in
conjunction with specific layouts and workspace use.


There are four main categories of office lighting that provide office, workspace and specific task illumination. Each can work in conjunction with vertical illumination to provide natural lighting, enhance productivity and create scenes and moods for different zones within the office.

Direct ceiling pendants

Perhaps the most common type of workspace lighting, ceiling pendants, provide light directly from the ceiling to the workspace and are usually fixed into the ceiling. They are best used in large, organised workspaces, working in conjunction with natural light to reduce glare and maintain a consistent mood throughout the day. Warmer or cooler lamps can be fitted depending on the scene required.


  • Provide light to the entire room
  • Suitable for office spaces large and small
  • Simple, flexible and easy to deploy


  • Don't provide task specific light
  • Not ideal for defining zones or structure

Indirect / direct ceiling luminaires

Suspended from the ceiling as pendants, these lights provide omni-directional lighting. Indirect / direct lighting can help provide more natural tones in deeper office spaces or specific work zones. Indirect lighting also helps provide structure to open plan office spaces and helps orientate staff and visitors.


  • Good for a variety of specialised zones from conference rooms to breakout and rec areas
  • Can provide warmer light than direct ceiling luminaires
  • Useful for structure and defining zones


  • Requires highly accurate planning and knowledge.
  • Can be expensive to deploy
  • Less flexible than simple direct / indirect lighting
  • Overhead space required

Controlled task lighting

Suspended, multi directional lighting with controllers for dimming and brightness. Useful for high concentration work or areas with highly variable natural light. Individual lamps can be fitted with different moods to provide a diverse set of scenes throughout the day (and evening).


  • Perfect for high concentration task areas like CAD
  • Multi-directional controls offer ultimate flexibility
  • Help define zones and areas


  • Can be expensive to implement
  • Requires positional layout knowledge before installation

Standing & desktop luminaires

Providing greater control over the task and workspace, standing lights provide indirect illumination while desk / table lamps highlight work specific surfaces.

Glare, sunlight and office depth should all be considered when planning office space lighting. To better aid overall productivity and wellbeing, there are several vertical surface illuminations to consider.


  • Individual control and flexibility
  • Easy to scale and move


  • Occupy desk and floor space
  • Not suitable for highly structured and efficient layouts like call centers.


Vertical surface illumination lights up walls, cabinets, bookshelves and walkways to help better define the overall office space. This type of lighting should be used in conjunction with office space lighting, as it often won’t provide enough nuance on its own for a perfectly lit office.


These lights provide flexible illumination to highlight specific zones, wall mountings, artworks, portals etc. Some spotlights can swivel and be repositioned, enhancing their flexibility. Spotlights are ideal for creating separate scenes within an office that help staff move through different moods, aiding in relaxation and general productivity.


  • Highly flexible, work well in conjunction with many layouts
  • Cost effective
  • Can aid with zone and structure definition and room orientation
  • Can help create feelings of warmth and space for relaxation
  • Great for vertical visual information like cabinets and bookshelves


  • Specific uses don't offer much adaptability to change
  • Should not be used to completely light an office, computer screens or horizontal surfaces (desks)

Wall washers

Similar to spotlights, wall washers provide a broader, softer illumination for vertical surfaces. Ideal for recreation and break rooms, they provide a softer, more relaxed atmosphere.


  • Great for defining specific areas and orientation (corridors and paths etc)
  • Suitable for relaxing atmosphere of reading areas, recreation and breakout rooms


  • Not suitable for illuminating horizontal surfaces like desks, or visual surfaces like computers

Wall luminaires

Like their ceiling suspended counterparts, wall luminaires provide vertical light up and down, and are commonly used to orientate and define spaces, walkways and thoroughfares. Break areas and recreational zones benefit from warmer lamps, while conference and meeting areas can use cooler lamps to highlight interior design and draw attention to objects and presentations.


  • Ideal for spatial definition, defining thoroughfares and walkways
  • Coordinate with direct ceiling luminaires to create defined spaces that feel bigger than they are


  • Not suitable for workplace or task area illumination


Similar to spotlights but with less flexibility, downlights provide illumination straight down into specific work ones and portals.


  • Best used to illuminate specific task areas, particularly shared areas like printing stations
  • Suitable also for kitchens, reception areas and conference rooms
  • Great for defining space within open plan offices


  • Lighting task areas can be tricky. Consider dimmable options

The negative impact
of badly lit offices

The office should be a place where we thrive, but studies have shown there are a variety of negative impacts on health and productivity that arise from poorly designed and badly lit offices. A lack of appropriate lighting can impact task performance, while lack of adequate warmth has shown clear associations with performance accuracy. A study by Cornell University in America found that a change of only 5 degrees, from 25 to 20, resulted in almost 50% more mistakes.

The link between
lighting and productivity

For those of us that work predominantly inside of offices, a lack of natural lighting can negatively impact mood, lead to fatigue and poor productivity.

Making sure desks are positioned appropriately in regards to windows will help reduce glare. However, levels of sunlight change throughout the day, meaning natural lighting needs to be supplemented to ensure continued productivity and staff comfort.

Achieving the right level of light at all times of day in the office can be challenging. Lighting Deluxe recommends a minimum illuminance of 500 Lux (lx) for computer work. Higher illuminance provides better visual information processing, and up to 1000 Lux is considered stress free.

Using 3 layers of office lighting for better productivity

To design an effective lighting plan for your office, it helps to consider office lighting over three stages; start broadly with lighting the room, then define specific task areas, then light surfaces to create individual spaces within the office environment. This not only improves productivity, but creates sensible moods that reflect what is actually happening within zones around the office. For example, a boardroom will generally have bright lighting, whereas a quiet-zone might suit more subtle lighting.


If you’re installing lighting into a brand new office where the layout of the room remains unknown, lighting choices can be more general and flexible. Consider direct lighting from ceiling luminaires and direct or indirect lighting from pendant luminaires.

Types of lighting

  • Ceiling luminaires (direct and indirect)
  • Wall washers
  • Standing lamps and luminaires
  • Wall luminaires


Task area lighting fills the gap between work surface and room lighting. It's useful for rooms with several specific work areas, and can help define separate work spaces when designed in tandem with interior design and layout.

Types of lighting

  • Controlled task lighting
  • Spotlights
  • Downlights
  • Standing lamps


Work surface lighting provides more attention to detail for the illumination of specific work surfaces within task areas. Because it’s comprised mostly of portable table lamps and floor lights, work surface office lighting is quite flexible, and gives greater control to the individual when determining how to illuminate surfaces and work areas. This can help reduce glare-induced fatigue and provide better engagement with work materials over longer time periods.

Suspended, adjustable lighting is also used to light work surfaces, though it is less common as it is generally more expensive. Controlled task lighting can usually be controlled from the desk or via software.

Types of lighting

  • Desk lamps
  • Controlled task lighting
  • Spotlights

Stimulation and relaxation: The two pillars of workplace lighting

To design an effective lighting plan for your office, it helps to consider office lighting over three stages; start broadly with lighting the room, then define specific task areas, then light surfaces to create individual spaces within the office environment. This not only improves productivity, but creates sensible moods that reflect what is actually happening within zones around the office. For example, a boardroom will generally have bright lighting, whereas a quiet-zone might suit more subtle lighting.

Considering each of these needs, different lighting should be implemented throughout the office to stimulate productivity, keep us engaged during meetings and help us relax when we’re taking a break. This is best achieved when lighting is tailored to the layout of the individual office.

Which type of office layout is
best for productivity

An office space can have many uses, but when it comes to the best layout, the needs of your team should dictate both the interior design and how it is illuminated. Let's take a look at a few of the most common office layouts and how best to light them for maximum productivity.


For offices where individual, computerised work is the primary task, the open plan office remains a popular and efficient layout.

The primary consideration for lighting an open plan office is the avoidance of direct and indirect glare. When light reflects off screens or surfaces, be it from the sun or from lamps and luminaires within the office, it contributes greatly to fatigue and can adversely affect health and performance. Open plan offices are particularly susceptible as their highly structured and coordinated layout leaves little room for flexibility.

To increase performance and productivity, the use of long rows of windows, deep offices and light dependent luminaire regulation should all be considered. Orientation can be aided with bright perimeter zones lit with wall washers, while conference rooms and reception areas benefit from diverse work and task level lighting to provide structure and suit the flexible needs of the zones.


  • Most efficient plan for high computerisation and telecommunication work. Call centers, real estate agencies etc.
  • Other layouts can be added as satellite areas
  • Use wall washers and wall luminaires to define space
  • Downlights and spotlights can be used in conference and shared task areas


  • Higher susceptibility to glare. Ensure desk rows are at right angles to windows, and carefully manage the brightness of ceiling luminaires
  • While open plan offices remain popular, they are perhaps less useful for small group collaboration
  • Open plan offices can create a feeling of isolation and anonymity


The cellular office is a traditionally private space that suits up to half a dozen staff who need to either work in constant close collaboration, privacy, silence or with clients.

While they might not be as efficient as open plan or combi offices, the cellular office provides a high degree of flexibility for the inhabitants. This extends to the lighting policy, which should take into account the variation of tasks performed across all three layers of lighting.

Louvered and recessed luminaires are common for use in small rooms, while downlights for cabinets, printing areas and other task specific zones can provide structure. Table lamps may be suitable for individual work tasks, as they provide flexibility for the diverse range of tasks performed in cellular offices.


  • High flexibility for individual needs
  • Suits dedicated teams and small businesses
  • Can work as a satellite layout for other offices


  • Not suitable for expanding or contracting teams, or high staff turnover
  • Not space efficient
  • Lighting requires good planning, particularly when there is a lack of sunlight


In response to the changing nature of office work, the combi office is an architectural reimagining of the office space as a marketplace of collaboration with individual production zones where personal productivity can take place.

As communication and collaboration take precedence in many offices, individuals spend more of their time as members of many cross-functional teams. The combi office supplies the platform for this co-working space, with a focus on an atmosphere that is agreeably lit with indirect pendant or standard luminaires.

Dimmable luminaires and desktop lamps create flexible working areas in individual production zones, while downlights help define zones within the combi office ‘marketplace’.


  • Highly flexible layouts give more power to the team to control their lighting
  • Suitable for changing and growing teams
  • Controlled task lighting can greatly aid in flexibility


  • Flexible structure increases the chances of poor lighting or glare
  • Can be space inefficient
  • Work and collaboration zones go unused


You’ll need to look back to the late 1970s and early 80s to find the first examples of the group office. As computers became more prevalent in the workplace, the more structured divisions of the open plan office gave way to clustered workspace arrangements that encourage team collaboration among groups.

When it comes to lighting group offices, the flexible nature of the layout should direct equally flexible lighting plans. Because group offices are zonal, lighting should be used to help highlight these zones.

For example, fax and printing areas can be lit with downlights or indirect wall luminaires depending on their locations. Meeting spaces will benefit from direct and indirect luminaires that provide more natural modelling on work surfaces, while break rooms should feel warm, with an overall indirect trunking system supported by table lamps for recreational tasks like reading.

The flexible design of the group office structure is still a popular layout in many modern offices, providing the conditions for direct communication and effective teamwork.


  • Good ‘middle ground’ between open plan and combi offices
  • Space efficient provided zonal areas are well designed


  • Layouts not as flexible under radical change or upheaval
  • Multi-directional facing can make glare reduction difficult


The interior design of executive offices can vary widely depending on the company and the people who occupy it. When it comes to lighting, however, there are several common features. There are three key areas within the prestige office, each with their own function and mood:

  • Workplace zone - There are many choices for the workplace zone, including ceiling and desktop luminaries and controlled lighting. Most importantly, lighting around the workspace should work in harmony with other zones to prevent eye strain and fatigue.
  • Small conference zone - Warm, low key light helps keep attention on the persons present. Suspended direct/indirect lights with warm lamps are a good choice.
  • Presentation zone - Highlighting of relevant areas can be achieved using wall washers, spots and downlights.


Computer Aided Design represents a significant challenge to office design, both in terms of interior layout and lighting. Visual accuracy is highly important, but lighting that is too bright can cause eye strain and fatigue. Many CAD workers also work with paper, and in collaboration with other team members, meaning there’s a need to find a balance in lighting throughout the day to ensure scenes are coordinated for the best productivity.

Ensure desks are at right angles to windows to reduce glare. Similarly, ceiling luminaires work best running parallel to the windows. For maximum glare reduction, adjustable external louvres can be installed on the windows that can be opened and closed to let in and reduce natural light from the window when needed.

Controlled task lighting should also be considered, so individuals within the office have better control over their lighting needs. If this is not an option, then desk lamps are an alternative.

Like all office layouts, CAD offices should also consider vertical lighting for cabinets, and zonal lighting for meeting areas and printer stations. All lighting should endeavour to work in conjunction with available daylight and overall atmosphere of the office.

The best ways to light meeting rooms, training areas and conference rooms

In the average office, most meeting rooms have a variety of functions. Unfortunately, during the design phase of an office layout, these rooms are often only considered by their ‘primary’ needs. It’s only later that we begin to repurpose these zones, and find that everything from layout to lighting might be less than optimal.

For best results, consider the diverse uses of these multi-purpose spaces as a series of scenes. Start with cool and bright ceiling lighting that opens up the entire space. Direct / indirect ceiling pendants are the best option for this kind of effect.

From there, an assortment of spotlights, downlights and wall washers can highlight specific zones, providing optional scenes of seclusion, privacy and productivity.

In many ways, lighting multi-purpose training and conference rooms is a bit like lighting an open plan residence – using a bright, uniform approach with plenty of specific scenes nested in the overall atmosphere.


In the modern workplace, greater productivity can be achieved through smart and flexible implementation of lighting that works in conjunction with the overall atmosphere of the office. Consideration of scenes and those changing moments within the average work day can help stimulate our individual creative, productive and social endeavours. As the way we work changes, lighting will continue to play an important role in transitioning to new forms of work that not only improve what we do, but our overall health and wellbeing while we do it.

To speak with a workplace design expert,
contact the Design Nation team today.

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