By March 2020 when office spaces were shut, and employees were sent home, temporary kitchen table workplaces were set up. Desk lamps were bought in their thousands and were installed and uninstalled every night before and after dinner. As the weeks wore on and our backs were breaking from our non-ergonomic-compliant workstation, the realisation awoke in us that this was not temporary. Fast forward a couple of months, and here we are, returning to work and realising that our office space may need to change forever, writes Helen White, Co-Founder of houseof.
Layout and usage
We are going to be using our offices very differently in the future. With a lot of big businesses predicting that 50% of their workforce will be working from home at any time. This means that our trip to the office suddenly becomes an occasion and a treat. Our trip to the office is not a time to sit at a solitary desk in silence but to interact with our co-workers. This means banks of desks, and their lighting schemes are becoming redundant. Many offices have recessed LED lighting to provide consistent levels throughout the space. The light is often bright and far enough above head height to reduce screen glare and eye strain. Although social interaction must still be distanced, this large expanse of light is not conducive to intimate meetings and breakouts. One quick way to change this is to install diffusers and sound-proofing panels over the existing lighting scheme to diffuse and soften the light. These panels can be dropped lower to create a more intimate office space and intermingled with pendant lighting.
Technology is going to be another factor within lighting which will have to change in a commercial setting. Lamp switches, plug sockets and other touchpoints will start to be phased out with motion sensor lighting and timed lighting schemes replacing them. With fewer people in the workplace, some lights may also become redundant, so motion detection lighting will become crucial to saving energy within the office space.
With LED smart lighting, colour temperatures (and even colours) can be changed easily. This will mean that lighting can lead the way in creating new zones within your office. Lighting can be switched to a yellow, softer light in the breakout and meeting spaces and to a whiter light where concentration is key.
Hygiene has always been criticised in office spaces with shared workspaces being germ hotspots. Offices will become less cluttered and easier to clean throughout the working day. This may mean that tidy desk policies and reducing desk accessories like task lighting may be essential. Installing ceiling lighting and wall lighting in desk spaces will mean that touchpoints and breeding grounds are reduced. Install ceiling lights just above head height to reduce eyestrain and screen glare.
The materials we use in office spaces will also be considered in relation to hygiene. Materials will need to be wiped clean and so complicated forms and porous surfaces may be ousted. Wood will be used less in exchange for copper and steel surfaces.
Our mental health has declined during the COVID-19 outbreak, and 56% of adults saying that they have felt worried and anxious. As we try to navigate life with COVID-19, these feelings will not dissipate. Working from home can also increase mental health disorders with people feeling more isolated and lonely as well as anxious about their future. This is why having touchpoints like office spaces will still be a crucial part of our lives.
It is also important that when in these spaces, they bring a sense of calm and relaxation, and lighting can be used in many ways to promote this feeling. Choose low-level integrated LED lighting in breakout rooms and meeting spaces to create a sense of calm. Also, reduce glare from overhead lighting by enclosing bulbs.
Daylight also promotes health and wellbeing and having access to daylight within an office will mean you have a happier, more motivated workforce. Promote the use of outside spaces in the summer, and make sure that areas where the majority of work is carried out, have good access to sunlight. Also, consider the pattern of the sun as it moves around the office. If one side of the building has more access to sunlight in the afternoon, promote flexible working spaces to allow employees to move with it. If you aren’t lucky enough to have access to a large amount of natural light, then supplement it with daylight level bulbs. Look for an LED colour temperature of 5000 plus as this will be the equivalent of noon sunlight.
It is inevitable that our office spaces need to change, and we need to relearn how to use the space. Whilst many thought that they would be redundant at the start of the pandemic, we may see people slowly returning to the office environment again. Temporary fixes are not the key here, and now that we are in this new life more permanently, for employee stability we should make permanent changes to our spaces rather than quick fixes and moving the furniture around.