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The birth of
WorkingPeopleLight

Trends in the working environment are constantly changing. Back in 2009, we identified that we had moved into a particularly interesting phase. After a steady move towards open-plan spaces becoming the norm around the world, collaboration and innovation now seemed to be dominant themes in the workplace.

The digital culture had also taken root. The internet had moved from an optional extra in the mid 1990s to an integral part of everybody’s working lives. Social media was becoming more common place too.

Experts
brought together

This was the context in which we launched three ground-breaking workshops in London, New York City and Shanghai, which brought together experts from architecture, lighting design, HR and related fields.

In 2010, a publication followed. It was the birth of an initiative we call Working People Light.

Fast forward a few years and further changes have inevitably influenced modern office life. That’s why a second generation of workshops – this time in London, Paris and Berlin – have proved so revealing. We are seeing the beginning of a movement away from the uniformity of open office space, towards individuals being able to personalize their environment.

Creating a balanced office

An office is where an organization, a building and its people come together. It’s important to keep this ‘trinity’ in balance, as each of the three elements contributes something important to the dynamic.

If we look at the organization, it provides employees with the essential resources they need to deliver results. One of those resources is the building. Obviously enough, it’s home to the employees, but also to the equipment and furniture they need. And then there are the people themselves. Without them, the organization cannot function. Their productivity and quality of work are essential to the success of the enterprise.

 

How light influences work

Lighting affects people on a variety of different levels. From a functional perspective, it needs to allow them to do their job efficiently. Less obvious, but critically important, is the ability of light to change people’s emotions, alter their behaviour and enhance their health. What if the lighting solutions we choose can actually strengthen natural rhythms and help support people in their daily tasks? It’s a vital step towards a truly human-centric work environment.

In the US, the average office space per person is set to fall to 10m² by 2017 - infographic
In the US, the average office space per person is set to fall to 10m² by 2017

- CoreNet

 

The office environment - it's a total package: space, furniture, light, air, color.  It's a remarkably complex brief to design a successful office space."

- Architect, Berlin workshop

When we look at the workplace trends for the future, the importance of lighting is set to become even more critical. Rents are rising, which means that energy and cost efficiency are top of the agenda. The spaces allocated to individual workers is declining. Meanwhile, according to research by Towers Watson, nearly half the 32,000 participants in a global survey said they worked remotely or in some kind of flexible arrangement. This is a world of ‘hot-desking’ and people moving in and out of spaces on a day-by-day basis.

 

Maybe we don't need as much change as we think. Offices themselves won't alter very much; it's what's inside them that will."

- Engineering Director, London Workshop

Comfort in the workplace

In London, lighting designers were joined by an office concept developer, digital strategist, architectural journalist, researcher, engineering consultant and project engineer. During the course of the day they exchanged ideas, discussed many different topics, brainstormed key themes and defined the challenges they felt the office industry should tackle in the coming years.

comfort in the workplace infographic

An interesting theme to emerge from the workshop was that comfort is a subjective idea. Each and every one of us defines it in a different way. It’s fair to say that it has three distinct, yet interdependent components.

Physical, cognitive and emotional
First, there’s the physical dimension. It’s the feel of the furniture, the quality of the air and the temperature of the room. Second, we have the cognitive dimension. If we’re involved a specific activity – say, reading or writing – we need our environment to be specific to the thing that we’re doing at the time. Finally, there’s the emotional dimension of comfort. We all want to feel as if we have some control over our working conditions.

Lack of comfort can lead to workplace stress, whereas a well-designed space where comfort is high on the agenda can alleviate stress.

Connectivity and mobility

The Paris workshop brought together a diverse range of different people, including a technical director, property manager, developer, architect and office designer, as well as a lighting expert, workplace ergonomist and building acoustic specialist.

One critical theme was the way in which office cultures and workplace design have been closely intertwined with the evolution of technology. The advent of the phone, for instance, during the 20th century meant that staff were able to communicate without leaving their desks.

 

Of course, in the past couple of decades, the advances in web-based telecommunications and mobile have meant that it’s straightforward to work without being in the office at all. And globalization means that collaborative working has become easy with colleagues and clients right around the world.

comfort in the workplace infographic

 

Comfort means connectivity and mobility."

- Real Estate Developer, Paris Workshop

Coming home to the office?
Despite their obvious advantages – no commuting and better work-life balance – remote working arrangements have a downside. Low employee engagement, for instance and decreased productivity. The CEO of Yahoo made headlines in 2013 when she announced that workers needed to come back in-house, as ‘some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings’.

 

If this signals a new trend – a ‘return’ to the office – then organizations need to provide workplaces people truly look forward to visiting and which can have a positive impact on their wellbeing. This means rethinking the financing and commissioning of office spaces, with emphasis shifting from the upfront cost to the future value.

Giving employees control

Again, a wide mix of disciplines and expertise was represented at the Philips workshop in the German capital, Berlin. Among the issues discussed was the way in which control over the office environment has become easier since the digitization of LED lighting.

By directly connecting the future office lighting system to the IT structure of buildings, the installation becomes a grid of control points and can be an excellent way of collecting data. When you couple this with the ubiquitous presence of smartphones, tablets and other devices, we have a huge step forward in terms of control.

 

Not only do office and facilities managers have much more information about how rooms are being used – allowing them to pre-program temperature and aircon – but individuals can adjust heat and light to suit their own personal preferences and working patterns.

This sense of control positively influences people’s feeling of health and wellbeing. What’s more, it supports the organization by helping to transform spaces, save energy and facilitate a wide range of activities.

comfort in the workplace infographic employees having control over their environment

Conclusions

Comfort can be an abstract and subjective concept, but we still live in a world of functional construction with standards, rules and labels. A mind-shift is needed which mirrors the one that has already taken place in the area of sustainability and environmental design. There is a strong case for saying that comfort itself is part of sustainability, supported by BREAAM and LEED standards. As part of this process, we need metrics to measure and define the value of comfort.

Although office buildings are designed to last for decades, there is a lot of stock that has become outdated and obsolete because of changing demands and lifestyles. It’s understandably difficult to know if something we design and engineer today will still be of value in, say, 20 or 30 years’ time. The industry needs to change its thought process and build with reconfiguration in mind. More nimble, less integrated structures, for example.

And what about service models? Already people are looking at new approaches, in which they pay for the use and benefits of an installation, rather than owning the equipment outright.

 

Younger generations have a new way of working. For them, the  boundaries between private life and work life are becoming more blurred."

-  Project Developer, Paris Workshop

 

The soft attributes of the office are really important: the colleagues, the degree of transparency, whether there is a room for discussion and debate."

- Project Manager, London Workshop

Spaces will increasingly be adapted and personalized. The office needs to be flexible enough to answer many different needs. And if people can create their own comfortable surroundings, they start to feel more appreciated and motivated.

The growth of smaller companies means a move away from large, inflexible and centralized facilities. Scalable and adaptable office space will become the norm, allowing businesses to express their distinct culture.

One final thought. As the boundaries between work and private life become increasingly blurred, we seem to be permanently connected. Very often, we sacrifice sleep, leisure time and employee wellbeing as a result. In the office of the future, people will be triggered to take care of their health. This ‘living office’ will respond to people’s daily rhythms and help them to relax and recharge. Not only will such a move be positive for the individuals concerned, but reap rewards in terms of the bottom line too. The effect of light on productivity and wellbeing, for instance, can be significant.

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