When we think about offices of the future, a realm of images come to mind: Computer screens projected whenever and wherever we want them. Spaces that can be instantly reconfigured to accommodate one person working alone or many collaborators. Seating that can automatically adjust to fight fatigue. We may see all of those things and more. But one often-overlooked, crucially important element of every workplace is poised to have more impact on our future workspaces than any adjustable furniture or sci-fi computer monitor. That key element? Light.
Though light is an elemental necessity for daily life and work, it has often taken a backseat in the design of workspaces. On a sunny day in a modern building with large windows, you might never think about office lighting at all. But shift your seat further into the interior of that building, or factor in smaller windows and a longer work day, and lighting’s importance leaps to the fore.
Office lighting can often be an afterthought for workplace designers, but careful integration of lighting into the design from its inception can result in a lighting design that not only supports productivity and workplace health but creates additional functionality for space, enables advanced wayfinding, and even functions as a brilliant, adaptable (and cost-efficient) medium to reinforce corporate identity and branding.
In the offices of decades past, lighting was often accomplished with rows of hanging fluorescent fixtures with controls that offered two settings: all on, in their buzzing, glaring glory, or all off. Modern lighting design has been transformed by LED technology and advanced controls, which allow for features such as dimming per today’s energy code requirements. Today’s common open ceiling office construction, which saves ceiling construction costs, also has several impacts on lighting design. This must be accomplished with fully finished fixtures that look good from every angle, and are adapted to carefully illuminate workspaces without highlighting mechanicals on view in the ceiling above. Lighting has even become a part of the office branding and decor, with fixtures that double as art installations or dramatic visual focal points in central gathering places and at entry points.
While the widespread shutdowns that have accompanied the current pandemic have changed our thinking about what offices should be and will be in the post-pandemic future, throwing widespread uncertainty over the design of offices, several overarching areas of focus have emerged — and each is impacted by lighting.