Opinion: How lighting can get the UK back to work

An overview of an empty office showing poser tables and pot plants
Sensors in the luminaires can see which are the high-use areas of the building and give managers the data to adapt that space to better accommodate social distancing.

The latest technology can enable businesses to thrive in the new normal, says James Bennett, commercial director, systems and services for Signify UKI

EVEN AS the UK continues to feel the effects of the Covid crisis, many places of work have been allowed to open again.
While pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and schools have been given the green light to re-open – many offices are still in a state of flux.
With businesses having to think about how they can adapt their existing workspaces to the new safety requirements, building and office managers will need to consider which technologies are available to help in this transition, providing employees with an office that is a clean, safe and healthy environment to return to.
With social distancing set to be a reality in some form for the foreseeable future, Covid-19 has shone a spotlight on the spaces where we interact and coexist, particularly for workspaces where collaboration or hot-desking are ingrained into the design and layout of the space.
There is something that can aid in the fight against the virus, help businesses maintain even stricter levels of hygiene and effectively adapt the workspace to allow for social distancing.
Not only is this tool effective, it has been under our noses – or more accurately, above our heads – this whole time: lighting.
Light is set to play a crucial role in responding to the current crisis and is providing applications many people would not have expected.
Businesses will need to consider how to keep their employees at safe distances from each other and manage far higher hygiene requirements.
Government guidelines state that businesses must keep employees at least 2 metres apart, or 1 metre with risk mitigation procedures such as separation screens.
However, for many workplaces putting employees in their own Perspex bubbles isn’t feasible – so what’s the alternative?
Intelligent, real-time space management.  Real time occupancy data allows building managers to establish Covid-19 related occupancy limitations on a localised basis.
Sensors in the luminaires can see which are the high-use areas of the building and give managers the data to adapt that space to better accommodate social distancing.
For example, if one kitchen on the floor is more used than the other, guidance can be issued for a one-way system or to direct half the floor to a lesser-used kitchen, and so avoid overcrowding.
These same sensors can also be integrated into an indoor navigation system, accessible to all employees via an app.
This system allows people to see which meeting rooms and desks are occupied in real-time, so when they need a space they’re not wandering around the building, but can remotely book an empty place, reducing unnecessary exposure round the floor.
This smarter, real-time monitoring through a connected lighting system, allows managers to make the most of their space, give more freedom to staff while prioritising their wellbeing.
Building managers must ensure that the office is a safe and healthy environment to return to. With that in mind, another potential tool in a building manager’s belt is IoT sensors. Integrated into the luminaires themselves, these IoT sensors can deliver more than the monitoring of foot traffic across the workplace.
Embedded into the existing lighting system, IoT sensors can allow building and office managers to monitor anything from temperature to air quality, noise levels, daylight levels, and relative humidity. Each area will have optimum conditions for employees to thrive, and tracking those levels is key to providing crucial insights for businesses looking to foster and maintain healthy environments. 

This also means businesses are able to provide a space that looks after their employees’ well-being and gives people the optimal environment to do their best work.
With stricter hygiene and cleaning regulations now in place for businesses, lighting technology offers a great option to help keep offices clean and free of deadly viruses.
Lighting, more specifically UV-C lighting, has been used as a disinfection tool for decades, and is a proven technology in the fight against viruses and bacteria.  

Most of us will already use UV-C and not know it, be that in water coolers, air conditioning or air purification systems.  

Tests coducted by Signify and Boston University have shown that more than 99% of the SARS-CoV-2 virus could be inactivated in a matter of seconds of exposure to UV-C light sources

In offices, this means canteens, kitchens, toilets, printer areas or other places that multiple people will need to use, can be disinfected and made safe – all through lighting.

While we yearn for a time pre-Covid, we are all having to get used to a new normal. It is now even more important than ever that businesses are equipped to make their working environments safe, while also giving their employees the confidence that they will be looked after. 

Every business knows that their people are their most vital asset and ensuring that their health and wellbeing is taken care of should remain a top priority. 

Lighting technology provides businesses with the tools to do this, despite the challenging new environment. It’s time to reconsider how we use light, and how it can guide our way back to work.

James Bennett is the commercial director for systems and services for Signify UKI