Windowless Workspace
August 13, 2008 4:23 PM   Subscribe

Tips for making a windowless workspace a pleasant place to work long hours?

I will move with the rest of my research group to a nicely renovated 3rd floor interior lab in just a few days. The lab, being in the center of the building, has no interior windows. Our desks are next to our benches, so I will soon be working all day without routine exposure to natural sunlight.

For those who have worked in similar situations: How does it affect you? How do you make a windowless workspace habitable? Houseplants? What kind? Supplemental lighting in addition to the overhead fluorescents? Artwork on walls? Other ideas? What works/worked for you?
posted by u2604ab to Work & Money (18 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I'll try and snap a photo tomorrow of my workspace, but I've found it's very helpful to use only non-flickering light. My visual preference is dimmable halogen. The light color is pretty close to natural sunlight, I get far less headaches than before when just using the built-in florescents, and it's easy to adjust the overall level depending on what's going on.

My wife also got me a plant that does very well in the room. It's got heart-shaped leaves and vines up a wire hanging from the ceiling. I've added framed photography to my walls to make it feel a bit more cozy.
posted by odinsdream at 4:36 PM on August 13, 2008

I wholeheartedly recommend plants, as long as that doesn't create any problems for the lab environment. If there isn't going to be a consistent source of sunlight, maybe you could look at something more resilient, like cactii?

From what I've read, the wavelength of fluorescent lighting is similar to noontime sun, and that can really crank you up a lot. Hopefully you have tungsten lighting in your home that will be more conducive to winding down before bed.

Lastly, do not underestimate the rejuvenating power of stepping outside of the lab to a balcony, sidewalk, or whatever is available. If you're on the third floor, it sounds like it wouldn't be too difficult to pop downstairs for a walk, or even lunch outside, maybe. Depends on if you're in a city or what kind of building this is.
posted by softsantear at 4:38 PM on August 13, 2008

At an NYU ITP show last year they had a sculpture which was basically a flat-screen TV with a window frame bolted to it, and covered by curtains. It felt like a real window. You could make one of those, and put beautiful outdoor scenes on the TV! (Or just get some nice art.)
posted by lsemel at 4:49 PM on August 13, 2008

Mirrors can feel like windows, also.
posted by beagle at 5:30 PM on August 13, 2008

I added a halogen light to my desk to perk things up and do away with crappy shadows from the overhead fluoro's, pasted up a variety of pretty photo's and posters, stashed a small lucky-bamboo plant in the corner for actual greenery and felt a lot better. Softsantear's point about fresh air is a very good one. Even if you don't smoke, take a 5 minute smoke-o anyway.
posted by ninazer0 at 5:50 PM on August 13, 2008

Find an excuse to stand near a window from time to time. You probably can't keep food in the lab, right? So park your coffee cup out in the hall near a window, and gaze at the great outdoors while drinking. Eat lunch outside in nice weather. When you're at your desk or bench you'll be focused on work so make your break times your chance to look at nice things.
posted by Quietgal at 5:55 PM on August 13, 2008

In our windowless office, we kill the overhead fluorescents and light with only incandescent lamps. The light is much softer and less glaring, which is easier on our eyes when staring at computer screens all day. I also put up some photos and Bliks on my walls, for color.

Other than that, I try to take breaks at least once a day - whether it's just taking a walk to the nearest window to look outside or actually going outside, like for a lunch break. The lack of sun exposure doesn't bother me much in the summer, when there's plenty of sunlight left after I get off work. I find I do miss it in the winter, when the sun has almost set by the time I go home. In that case, I just try to get as much sunlight as I can on weekends.
posted by geeky at 5:59 PM on August 13, 2008

I had a windowless office for a year or so and plants really made me a lot happier. I had a jade plant that did okay (though oddly, it's dying off now I'm in an office with light) Also an African violet, which stopped blooming right away, but has kept growing foliage for a couple of years now. And since there's a woman who sells cheap flowers on the streetcorner near my office I also bought a little bouquet every couple of weeks to keep things bright and pretty, or brought in flowers from my garden. I got a lot of compliments on how nice it was to have actual colorful flowers around.

I did also try to get out for a little while every day - for a ten-minute walk around the block, if I couldn't actually have lunch out of the office.

We're working on ideas for brightening up a windowless break room right now, and one suggestion has been to buy up some cheap on-sale 2008 calendars with neat pictures, and put the pictures up on the walls. We may do that, if we can find pictures we like.
posted by Stacey at 6:05 PM on August 13, 2008

For my windowless office, I keep a couple of browser windows/tabs open at all times with two webcam pages; one with an outdoor view of the city, and one to watch my cat at home, both set to a regular refresh interval. If you're on a Mac with Dashboard, get SlothCam and find the image URLs of outside webcams in your locale.
posted by brownpau at 7:49 PM on August 13, 2008

Windows Vista Dreamscenes are like having a window in your monitor. It would be even better when combined with Isemel's suggestion.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:32 PM on August 13, 2008

My entire building has no windows -- it's a factory downstairs with labs and offices upstairs. They call it The Mushroom Farm. You'd think we'd all have permanent seasonal affective disorder, but no. It's a happy place. Windows schmindows.

We have this terrific folk art on all the walls upstairs -- my section has molas and Guatemalan textile art everywhere. It's all bright red. It's great. So... get some art that makes you happy, and put it over your desk.

I have orchids on my desk. They don't seem to mind the halogen lights. They bloom for weeks, and are ineffably gorgeous. Get some orchids -- $13 at Trader Joes.

There is also a graphic somebody made of this, with has a more dejected looking snake and "Don't spread ennui." A useful reminder.
posted by Methylviolet at 8:34 PM on August 13, 2008

Sorry, here's the link.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:34 PM on August 13, 2008

Decorate your windowless space as someplace cool and underground: the fortress of solitude, the batcave, Moria, Vault 13, etc.
posted by Netzapper at 9:20 PM on August 13, 2008

Wall-to-wall bookshelves. The coziest windowless workspaces I've seen felt like tiny closet-sized libraries. Something like this or this. But one wall you should keep free of books, and that wall you should have covered with framed pictures or photos. That, and no overhead lighting--just lamps.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:28 AM on August 14, 2008

If you miss the sunlight, you could also get one of those daylight lightbulbs to use on a lamp directly by your desk. They work a treat if you get depressed from lack of sunshine.
posted by tweemy at 3:04 AM on August 14, 2008

Add one or more of these fake windows.
posted by K.P. at 5:56 AM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

nthing more light, especially the sunlight-like/incandescent type.

Temporary wall decorations like these are nifty as well.
posted by Ky at 7:20 AM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Art on our walls is how most people keep from going crazy here. My coworker got some neat art from Kirkland's and also a rug, and it made it much nicer.

My office is windowless. Sometimes I go outside for a few minutes just to soak up some sunshine and fresh air. It helps a lot.
posted by radioamy at 10:14 AM on August 14, 2008

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