Seeing the light – how smart lighting will shape our workplaces for the better

“Let there be light.”

It’s not often I quote the bible in a blog, but just take a moment to think how important light is to our everyday lives. It guides our rhythms as a society. It dictates our days. It’s one of the things you’ll constantly hear architects talk about. And in any property listing you can probably bet that terms like “light and airy” are one of the first things you’ll read.

But architecture can only go so far, and for something that is such an essential part of our existence it’s sadly too often an afterthought in how we design our buildings. Generally the light surrounding is natural, or artificial – in which case, the lights are on, or they’re off. If those lights come on when they detect movement maybe it’s considered “smart lighting”.

But lighting is about so much more, and we’re really starting to take the topic of lighting seriously in terms of occupant comfort and productivity. A term was coined “human centric lighting” (HCL) to begin to address the importance of this topic.

Lighting has an effect on us in weird and wonderful ways that we’re still beginning to understand. There’s lots of interesting studies that delve into how lighting can even affect a number of our senses, but also how it affects our mood and behaviour. While I’m not proposing smart lighting will improve the taste of the office coffee, but it does have huge potential in areas of productivity. In a recent study, Asst. Prof. Dr. K.M.Zielinska-Dabkowska points out that there is much still to be learned but “we’ve grossly underestimated the powerful influence of light on biology”.

In another recent article published in Forbes, Dr Pragya Agawal goes so far as to say that “Bad lighting is associated with a range of ill-health effects, both physical and mental…[and] has an adverse effect on the body and the mind”.

The people in our buildings are our biggest assets, but also (let’s be honest) our largest expense. Anything we can do to aid productivity is good for business and also great for the health and wellbeing of each individual.

We’re seeing increased use of daylight harvesting – where we adapt lighting to the natural light outside to offset power consumption while maintaining light levels. That’s been motivated mostly by power saving and thus cost saving, but it also has a key part in making lighting truly intelligent and more comfortable. As with most technology, where the domestic market leads, the workplace follows.

It’s already possible to get ‘smart’ bulbs that adjust temperature at the touch of a button or a voice command. I think we’ll also see increased understanding of how colour temperatures can be used for specific purposes – for example lighting styles such as strong white like those preferred in media work through to lighting that is suited more for long term attention in an extended meetings.

Before long we’ll see this sort of flexibility, and technologies such as daylight harvesting, come together to really see clever lighting techniques utilised in the workplace.

Then there’s the kind of lighting that adapts throughout the day – adjusting brightness and temperature to adjust to the ambient lighting and our circadian rhythms. There are already a number of studies on light impacts on our sleeping patterns and body clocks, and how it can support shift workers and those travelling from other offices suffering from jet lag.

The green agenda is always important so any ways that lighting can be more intelligent is welcome. Lighting will continue to be ‘on’ only when it’s needed, and with the scenarios I’ve mentioned above, it’ll only be there in the way it’s needed. Why have 100% lighting when it’s sunny outside?

It’s a topic that is still growing and we’re still learning. We don’t have all the answers yet. But I firmly believe it will be an incredibly influential area of smart building technologies in the coming years.

Now I’ve written my article… Alexa, set my living room to relaxing white.