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Lighting the offices of the future

Colin Lawson

Colin Lawson

Head of Market Intelligence at Tamlite Lighting
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With a growing amount of research highlighting changes in workplace behaviour in a post-pandemic world, next-generation LED lighting and controls will play a pivotal role in minimising energy consumption and promoting employee wellbeing, says Colin Lawson, Tamlite Lighting’s head of market intelligence.

There is no denying that the pandemic has prompted reflection and changes in workplace behaviour. As a result, the commercial property sector is undergoing a period of change, with hybrid working becoming a more popular concept.

This idea is supported by a new report from Microsoft Surface and YouGov, the Work Smarter to Live Better research found that almost nine out of 10 employees reported that their businesses have adapted to hybrid working and this model of working is here to stay.

Yet the death of the office should not be exaggerated. Whilst employees’ working habits are changing, they still have a strong desire to spend time in the office. The Microsoft survey highlighted that employees missed seeing their colleagues in person, while the opportunity for social interaction is a key driver for people’s decision to go into the office when guidelines allow.

This means demand for office space is still there. This is supported by the CBRE’s latest UK office snapshot, which highlights a gentle recovery across the major UK office markets, buoyed by regional activity.

Whilst some businesses will reduce their dependence on office buildings, what is certain is that companies retaining office space will want to use it more flexibly as part of the new hybrid working model.

Great expectations

This change takes place against a number of other challenges currently facing the built environment. Most notably is the UK Government’s target to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

In line with this, to date 42 members have signed up to the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment, representing more than 4,700 buildings and 16.7 million square metres of floor space. There is also increasing demand for healthier buildings that promote occupant wellbeing, particularly from larger, socially-conscious corporate organisations.

As a result, business owners and building managers alike will be keen to create pleasant office spaces that encourage people back into the workplace, while also improving energy efficiency in a bid to reduce carbon emissions.

Bearing this in mind, it’s arguable that there has never been a better time to review core building systems and ensure that they complement more flexible working patterns. Lighting remains one of the most fundamental of these and should be at the very top of the priority list given that the latest systems are intrinsically supportive of more variable and reduced occupancy levels, and are capable of major energy savings – often in return for relatively small investments.

Taking control of lighting

In the vast majority of cases, high-efficiency LED lighting used in conjunction with intelligent control systems will add a level of flexibility that is vital in modern offices. The ability of LED technology to reduce energy consumption by two-thirds or more, as well as greatly increased product lifespans, is now universally accepted. But with occupancy patterns shifting, it is only by fully integrating it with sensors and controllers that usage can be optimised.

The commissioning of intelligent lighting systems could be seen by many as a complex and time-consuming affair. But the latest generation of smart systems greatly reduces the impact on a facility’s cost-base, infrastructure and personnel. In this context, it makes sense to engage with a specialist lighting company at the earliest possible stage, since they are able to provide expert guidance and the most effective fast-track solutions to delivering the right light when it is needed, and within budget.

As an example, installing PIR sensors will ensure that lighting is not used unnecessarily when the room is unoccupied by dimming or switching off the fittings, while advanced controllers – such as daylight dimming sensors – allow the output of the luminaires to be adjusted in accordance with natural light levels.

Beyond that, a network which connects all of the fittings and sensors to a centralised control system allows building managers to establish lighting states and settings that suit the preferences of different groups of workers. Integrated systems like this also make it much easier to track energy usage and identify further ways in which consumption can be reduced.

Companies who move in this direction can also be buoyed by the realisation that they are helping to ensure the wellbeing of their employees – an issue that is also certain to remain high on the agenda in 2021. Once again, the latest smart lighting networks are part of the solution, with tunable systems allowing the intensity and hue of lights to be adjusted for the comfort of the workforce.

Now is the time to think carefully about how offices can best be used when life does begin to return to normal. Incorporating technologies that will support more varied and unpredictable occupancy patterns is really the only way to go, and in this regard integrated LED lighting and control systems represent a straightforward ‘win-win’ for employers and employees alike.

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