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Tamlite discuss the future of office lighting with renowned lighting designer John Bullock

The Future of Office Lighting . . . Lighting of the Future Office

The Covid-19 lockdown has created a storm of comment about what the future of office work will look like: will we all eventually wander back to our desks as if nothing happened, or are we all turning into long-term home-workers? Whatever the outcome, there will be changes; and there will be issues that we, as lighting manufacturers, specifiers and influencers, need to come to terms with.

Two lighting organisations are already encouraging a new way of looking at office lighting design, both suggesting that the traditional – what we may as well call ‘old-fashioned’ - approach of uniformly lighting the floorplate is over.

LIA: We’ve seen the recent Statement put out by the LIA (Lighting – a key contributor to healthy buildings with better Indoor Environmental Quality). That statement calls for a full renovation of luminaires, rather than re-lamping exercises. New lighting should incorporate controls and sensors and should be designed to ensure health and well-being, productivity and occupant safety and welfare. The implications of incorporating controls and sensors leads us to assume that we’ll only be providing working illumination when and where it’s needed.

SLL: is putting together an initiative to encourage building developers to move away from catA fit-out – the most wasteful specification, both of money and material resources, imaginable. This comes from Bob Bohannon’s inaugural speech to the SLL in June 2020, where he promoted the concept of Build Back Better. This initiative will be aimed at removing the ubiquitous 600x600 LED panel installation that is installed and often ripped out before the office space is occupied.

What might a new approach look like in practice?

Tamlite spoke to UK lighting designers and experts in office lighting to find out what’s being talked about around the project table.

1.       The ‘new normal’ looks like the ‘old normal’.

Sadly, in this scenario we allow the inertia of past practice to regain its dominance and little changes. Even if SLL get traction on changes to the catA fit-out principle, incoming tenants may still prefer to see a standard grid of LED panel luminaires covering the entire floorplate.

This is not something that we should be promoting.

2.       Health and safety practices require a new pattern of furniture layout within the open-plan space.

We’re already seeing the ‘chess-board’ pattern of chairs and table being adopted to achieve social distancing in a variety of settings. Pre-Covid-19, the office space rule of thumb was 10m2 per employee. This was based on 5m2 for the desk space and 5m2 in communal areas such as kitchens and meeting rooms.

If social distancing requires 2m spacing between individuals, then desk space probably needs to be enlarged by a percentage. That means that an office of a given size will house fewer people – or the original number of people will require a larger space.

The further apart work colleagues sit, the more wasteful the standard lighting grid arrangement becomes. This will lead, necessarily, to a breakdown in uniformity, with the chess-board pattern becoming the norm for illuminance planning – requiring lower levels between designated desking spaces.

There’s some intriguing number-crunching around this option:

If we light an open plan office to 400 Lux average then, assuming an acceptable standard of uniformity, we might expect a lighting load of around 4W/m2.

Typical pre-Covid occupancy levels were based on occupancy levels of one person per 5m2. Put simply, each occupant costs the business 20W of lighting (without any additional task lighting). Across the working year (2500hours) that amounts to around 50kWh.

If post-Covid spacing recommendations shift to one person per 10 m2, say, and nothing else changes, then the head cost of lighting doubles to 40W per person - and 100kWh.

The aim of any new lighting approach must be to retain light quality without increasing energy demand. We must find a way to maintain the installed load at the original occupancy cost of 20W per occupant. How to achieve that?

Crudely, we could just reduce lighting levels by 50%, but that hardly meets the needs of the occupant – nor the demands of the Health and Safety Executive. The answer has to be to redefine the lighting load of the space, retaining workstation illuminance levels and abandoning light levels in secondary spaces.

This is not a new idea and there are many examples of this localised approach. The major difference comes with the need to maintain social distancing of workstations. That has never been required before. 

3.       Workstations become ‘floating work islands’.

The answer for some companies may be to shift to a completely flexible pattern that enables workstations to be created wherever they are required.

This approach can separate the connection between ceiling-mounted lighting services and the working space, leading to a new modular approach in desk design that includes floor-standing or desk-mounted up-down lighting. This is a familiar model in Germany and Scandinavia but has never gained traction here . . .  mainly due to the speculative build approach that’s blighted UK office design for years. (and this, of course, is why SLL is focusing its attention on this practice)

4.       The home workstation.

Covid-19 home-working has not yet caught the eye of the Health and Safety inspectorate. Employees have been obliged to work from home regardless of their domestic situation. Complaints of bad backs, stiff necks, eye strain will inevitably follow.

Eventually, there will be a need for an ‘approved’ home-working station that satisfies the ergonomic standards required for healthy working.

Lighting for health and wellbeing.

The push towards circadian lighting will not disappear, but the noise that’s been created around it might get turned down. It’s likely that there will be a new approach to the way that tunable-white lighting is used. The more individual the workstation becomes, the more appropriate it will be for workers to be able to select their preferred colour temperature.

This will be more about psychological well-being, rather than circadian entrainment.  We can expect circadian issues to be dealt with by encouragement to spend more time outside of the building – taking a walk at lunch - or via better access to natural light within the office.

Lighting for antimicrobial disinfection.

The Lockdown period created a golden opportunity for unscrupulous traders to tout the benefits of UV-C lighting – preferring to ignore the inherent dangers in the technology. Lighting industry associations in Europe and the USA have condemned this practice.

Other antimicrobial technology may be coming on stream, such as the use of titanium dioxide to create a photocatalytic action that destroys pathogens in the air. This involves a transparent layer of TiO2 nanoparticles mounted onto luminaires to create a cleansing zone in the upper volume of the office.   However, it is important to note this technology is currently being reviewed in the UK and testing for its effectiveness and safety is taking place.

Silver ion technology is also being considered as a way of reducing pathogen build-up on luminaire bodies and diffusers by adding silver ion to paints and plastics. Silver ion is already being used on interior surfaces in healthcare where shared contact can spread infection. 

Lighting for ‘pod working’.

Pod working could also become more attractive as a way of maintaining a healthy local environment – structural pods that can be disinfected while they are unoccupied. It’s a development from the ‘floating workstation’ because it would contain its own environmental control.