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I got a job with a small web development firm last week and I'm still getting acquainted with the whole setting and environment.

I've been paired up with a guy named John. I'm about to start working on my own (my training is almost finished) and I'm going to be in the room with him for five+ hours a day. The problem is he works with the lights out all the time.

Working on a monitor without an appropriate light source is a serious health concern (in terms of vision). I'm the new guy - I don't want to come in and change everything up and hurt his "workflow," but I just find that this drives me crazy. What is the appropriate course of action?

closed as unclear what you're asking by Jim G., Michael Grubey, IDrinkandIKnowThings, Deer Hunter, squeemish Aug 11 '13 at 21:28

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    "Working on a monitor without an appropriate light source is a serious health concern" [citation-needed] – yannis Aug 8 '13 at 1:39
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    I've been trying it for 20+ years @samarasa, when are the problems supposed to start? – yannis Aug 8 '13 at 2:37
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    @Yannis, I totally agree that this is not a good question. Using a table lamp might be one of the solutions. However, some people at least like me and Djang have difficulty in working in the dark in front of a monitor. I feel that asking citations is somewhat rude.... – samarasa Aug 8 '13 at 3:12
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    @samarasa How is asking for citations rude? Also, please note that I never said this is not a good question. I'm not sure why you assumed that. Asking for clarifications, including citations, is not the same as saying "this isn't good". If that was how I felt about the question, I would have voted to close it already. – yannis Aug 8 '13 at 4:50
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    Djang - turn the lights on. If problems persist, contact the manager. – Deer Hunter Aug 8 '13 at 7:59
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What is the appropriate course of action?

First talk with John. It's entirely possible John will go, "yeah sure, doesn't bother me" and this is a non-issue. I can't believe none of the answers or comments have suggested this as a first course of action.

Say something very similar to, "do you have any objections to me turning the lights on? My eyes get strained if they are off." Note the wording here is very deliberate. It basically means if John wants to leave them off he needs to find a good reason.

Saying something much more passive, such as "can I turn the lights on?" allows an easy "I'd prefer not, thanks for asking!" type of response which ends conversation. Saying my suggestion forces a dialog on it should John want to leave them off.

I don't recommend just turning the lights on without at least asking John.

Assuming this doesn't work (which is probably unlikely) try some of the suggestions listed in other answers.

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    Please remember he may have health issues that are reason he works with the lights out such as light senitivity due to migraines. – HLGEM Aug 8 '13 at 17:44
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    It seems like enderland's phrasing of "do you have any objections ..." handles that quite neatly. If he does have light sensitivity due to migraines, then he can state that as his objection. In which case, Djang can ask his supervisor to work in another place because his light requirement and his current officemate's light requirement are incompatible. – nadyne Aug 8 '13 at 19:33
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The options are:

  • Move to another office
  • Compromise
  • Adjust
  • Live with the issue

I have no idea if move to an another office is even possible, or if you want to try that one first. If you try to compromise and adjust first, you might have greater success when asking to move to another office because you can say we tried X,Y and Z.

Compromise ideas would include:

  • Can you position some task lighting to minimize the glow that impacts him, yet gives you some additional light.
  • Can the light from the window be better utilized by you if the desks were moved or turned.
  • Can the light from the hallway be better utilized by you if the desks were moved or turned.
  • Is there a low setting on the lights that can be used.
  • Is there a different bulb that can be used.

Adjust options:

  • If you must work together for those 5+ hours is there a way you could adjust your starting time to minimize the overlap. Get there earlier or stay later. It might give you additional hours with sufficient external light.

Asking to Move: Explain what you tried. Explain why they didn't work. Suggest some options.

Don't call it a health issue, unless it really is one. Say that it impacts your productivity. Now if you do have a documented issue with low light conditions then you can explain the situation. In some places they would have to make reasonable accommodations to deal with the disability.

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    Why not... try talking with John before trying all that? – enderland Aug 8 '13 at 3:53
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    Who do you think you think the OP would be compromising with? – mhoran_psprep Aug 8 '13 at 10:43
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In Denmark there are regulations in place to ensure you have a good working environment, and which you can point out is not being followed and then have to be put in order.

In other words, we can without being looked strangely at request proper lightning, adjustable tables and chairs (I am really tall so I have seen a lot), etc so that the law is followed. I don't know in your culture if that is the same, but this is the approach I would suggest.

If that then is incompatible with John then you can most likely not share offices, and will have to find another way to communicate efficiently.

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    +1 I was thinking the same thing but I was unable to find a specific norm, standard or study regarding lighting for computer work. Would be interesting if someone knew one. – Relaxed Aug 8 '13 at 11:30
  • You cannot have absolutes. Just imagine you and John having to agree on what is acceptable. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Aug 8 '13 at 12:57
  • It's not entirely or merely a subjective question, there is certainly research on health effects, what most people find comfortable, etc. It's just that I don't know where to find it. – Relaxed Aug 8 '13 at 13:11

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