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The ‘new normal’ for offices – and what it means for lighting control

There will be big changes to office life in the post-pandemic world. And while we don’t yet know which changes will stick, it’s clear that intelligent lighting control will play a key role.

June 29, 2020

As workers return to their offices after lockdown, the places they’re coming back to won’t be the same as the ones they left. In fact, they may never be the same again.

Offices are having to adapt to new rules and new priorities post-Covid-19, with big implications for the way we manage light. Luckily, DALI lighting control is all about being adaptable.

Even before 2020, offices were changing. Indeed, the World Economic Forum was already declaring that “the traditional office is dead” over three years ago [1].

The move towards flexible and remote working had been happening for some time before the current crisis made it urgent.

Remote working

Amid the pandemic, Big Tech has led the way in remote working, with firms like Twitter and Facebook giving staff the option to work permanently from home. A survey by Gartner found that nearly three quarters of employers now plan to have at least some staff working permanently from home, and many are cutting back on office space [2]. 

Meanwhile, Barclays boss Jes Staley says big corporate HQs may become a “thing of the past” [3]. 

But not all jobs can be done from home, and not everyone wants to work that way. Offices, in one form or another, are going to be with us for a long time. The question is, what will they be like?

In the immediate term, the changes to offices are about limiting infection. This means more social distancing, more cleaning, and avoiding touching things wherever possible.

Long-term design decisions are likely to be put off until the way ahead is a little clearer, but for now at least, spaces are being rearranged to allow for more distancing, and staff may be rotated on different days to keep numbers down. Different areas will need to be more clearly delineated, and the way people move around offices will need to be more carefully directed.

Lighting changes

This inevitably means changes to lighting, which will need to be differently distributed, while also being more flexible.

The need for more ventilation will encourage windows to be opened more often, says the British Council for Offices (BCO). This, in turn, may mean more blinds needing to be opened which will let more light in. The knock-on impact will require more of a balance to be struck between natural and artificial light in areas of the office where this previously may not have been problematic [4].

To limit the spread of infection, the BCO says offices will also need to use more touch-free devices to control things like lights and doors – either based on occupancy sensors (detecting presence or motion), or wireless control.

The role of DALI

Lighting control systems based on DALI can play a role in addressing all of these challenges. DALI makes it possible to reconfigure and customize lighting designs via software without changing any fixtures or rewiring. DALI also enables light to be controlled based on ambient light levels, or in response to whether spaces are occupied, or operated according to a timer.

Systems are available that incorporate wireless and cloud-based control, to minimize the use of shared devices or wall-mounted switches. And the vast choice of DALI-compatible products on the market makes it easy to add new fixtures and devices to an installation, in the knowledge that they will work correctly with existing equipment.

At the same time, a heightened focus on building services such as HVAC to control infection and support new working practices, is likely to mean more attention being given to the way lighting is integrated with other services via building management systems. The use of a globally recognized standard like DALI is an important piece of this puzzle.

Safe, healthy, sociable

In the longer term, offices will have to shift their focus to delivering the things remote working cannot provide: the social, face-to-face element of office life. Perhaps most importantly of all, encouraging staff back into offices will require employers to show that they are safe and healthy places to be. That represents a huge opportunity for lighting control – particularly for emerging technologies like tunable white and human-centric lighting that can enhance wellbeing and atmosphere.

DiiA, the global DALI alliance, is already supporting this trend by adding tunable white products to the DALI-2 certification program. Such devices can be independently verified as adhering to the very latest DALI-2 standards, ensuring seamless interoperability with other products.

Will we spend less time in offices in future? Very possibly. But lighting will continue to be right at the heart of those offices, and controls based on DALI will play a more important role than ever before.


References

[1] The traditional office is dead. Here’s why
https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/11/forget-the-open-plan-office-modern-work-spaces-should-be-agile/

[2] Gartner CFO Survey reveals 74% intend to shift some employees to remote work permanently, Gartner, 3 April 2020
https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2020-04-03-gartner-cfo-surey-reveals-74-percent-of-organizations-to-shift-some-employees-to-remote-work-permanently2

[3] Barclays boss: Big offices ‘may be a thing of the past’, 29 April 2020
https://www.bbc.com/news/business-52467965

[4] Thoughts on office design and operation after COVID-19, BCO, April 2020
http://research.bco.org.uk/resources/clients/3/user/resource_984.pdf


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