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Germans increase office efficiency with 'cloud ceiling'

Worker output boosted by illusion of open sky overhead

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So you thought you had deployed every form of office technology that could possibly increase the productivity of your company's cripplingly expensive salaried employees? You were wrong. Remorseless German boffins have discovered a way to make office workers still more efficient using - quite literally in this case - cloud technology.

Prototype 'virtual sky'. Credit: Fraunhofer Institutes

Why not encourage some blue sky thinking?

According to the top researchers of the Fraunhofer-Institut für Arbeitswirtschaft und Organisation (IAO) in Stuttgart, the human mind is set up to work at its best under the open sky, with changing illumination caused by clouds passing overhead. The unvarying glare of office lighting is sub-optimal, therefore, and in order to wring the last ounce of efficiency from German workers whose productivity has already been pushed to unprecedented heights they have decided to rectify this.

Their answer is the installation of luminous LED-equipped ceiling tiles which project a low-resolution moving image suggesting clouds rolling across the sky above office workers.

“Each tile comprises an LED board with 288 light emitting diodes (LEDs),” states Dr Matthias Bues, head of department at the IAO. “The board is mounted on the ceiling. A diffuser film in matt white is attached approximately 30cm beneath the LEDs and ensures that the individual points of light are not perceived as such. This diffuser film creates homogenous lighting that illuminates the room throughout.”

This "virtual sky" system, as the Fraunhofer boffins describe it, has been tested on human volunteers in order to determine the optimum settings.

“The LEDs allow us to simulate these dynamic changes in lighting in a way that is not directly obvious to the naked eye. Otherwise the lighting might distract people from their work. But it does need to fluctuate enough to promote concentration and heighten alertness,” says Bues.

The Fraunhofer Institute's press statement doesn't give any actual concrete figures on improved worker productivity in terms, say, of more BMWs or tanks successfully designed and manufactured. But it does say:

Results of a preliminary study indicate that users find this dynamic lighting to be extremely pleasant. The study involved ten volunteers ... Throughout the first day, the lighting remained static. On the second day, it fluctuated gently, and on the third day the fluctuations were rapid. On the fourth day, the participants could choose which type of lighting they wanted, and 80 percent opted for the fast, dynamic lighting.

Unfortunately the battery-farm style worker efficiency overheads still cost €1,000 per square metre, but the Fraunhofer boffins expect this to come down (presumably because they have installed early sets in the plant fabricating the tiles). ®

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