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Can A Lighting System Empower Employees At The Office?

A workplace illuminated by Lutron's Ketra technology

As Americans slowly return to the office, keeping tenants safe is at the top of every property owner’s mind, but they can’t focus only on stopping the spread of the virus.

While keeping buildings clean and encouraging social distancing should remain top priorities, the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on employee mood and motivation as well. Now is the time for owners to think outside the box for ways they can make the office a comfortable space that promotes both employee health and well-being.

“Building owners and companies are going to have to redefine what an office means and work to create an environment employees actually want to come back to,” Ivanhoé Cambridge Executive Vice President Jonathan Pearce said during a Bisnow webinar.

One way to create this positive environment is to focus on lighting, with an emphasis on bringing as much natural light into a space as possible, while balancing it out with the right amount of electric light. Not only is regular exposure to natural light an important part of maintaining a regular sleep cycle, but research has also found that when it comes to coveted office amenities, access to natural light beats all others.

Having a space that makes employees feel productive and energized will be a crucial step in the return to the office, according to Brent Protzman, director of standards, development and building science at Lutron Electronics, a world-leading lighting, shading and controls company.

“The most impactful thing you can do for office employees is give them good access to daylight,” Protzman said. “This means organizing your space properly and investing in a shading system that balances natural light, integrates with dynamic electric lighting to enhance the connection to the outdoors and empowers your employees to control their own lighting.”

Protzman said that many employees feel they don’t have ownership over the light they work in. Office workers typically defer to the person sitting closest to the window when it comes to controlling natural light. If that person chooses to close the blinds, no one will go over and open them, even if they are in an open office environment where every employee shares the light.

Employers and building owners can solve these disputes and ensure that everyone gets access to the right amount of light by installing automated shading systems, which respond to the amount of natural light present in an office throughout the day. Lutron’s systems maximize access to natural daylight while eliminating the debate over who is responsible for opening and closing the shades. 

These systems also prevent employees from missing out on the views from outside their office window, something many of them may have been longing for since they started working from home.

"Many people have been spending months in their homes in dark or under-lit rooms with limited, unchanging views of their yards or the neighbors across the street,” Protzman said. “Giving them greater access to more exciting views and a dynamic lighting environment could help get them excited about coming back to the office.”

He added that at home, many people have also become accustomed to setting lights and shades to whatever feels right, so it will also be important to extend some personal control and empower employees to create their own sense of comfort when in the office.

Lutron’s Ketra dynamic light technology also brings natural light indoors, by mimicking the color and intensity of real-time daylight conditions in a building’s interior. Ketra natural light is designed to make everyone feel as though they are close to a window. When combined with Lutron integrated shades, the experience between real daylight and electric light is seamless, with subtle changes happening throughout the day to continuously balance light.

An automated lighting and shading control system can also help property owners achieve WELL Building certification, a growing building standard, like LEED, that many tenants find attractive.

When Delos, inventor of the WELL Building standard, went looking for a lighting system for its own New York headquarters, the team vetted close to 2,000 products before choosing Lutron’s Ketra technology for its tunability and its high degree of control. The company wanted its new home to reflect its commitment to employee health and well-being, and Ketra technology gave employees a chance to customize their light to suit their moods, their tasks or the time of day.

“People’s lighting needs change rapidly from one task to the next,” Protzman said. “Someone may need bright, cool light while they’re focused and task-driven, but dimmer, warmer light when they have an inventive brainstorming session. With our system, employees can immediately take control of the lighting around them based on their specific needs.”

Protzman said that having this level of control helps employees feel connected to their environment, and may even help improve retention. One survey of more than 1,600 office workers found that more than half indicated that access to natural light and views improved their organizational commitment

While there have also been studies that link an increase in natural light exposure to improved workplace productivity, Protzman said that should not be the main reason employers invest in an automated lighting system. 

“Productivity can be difficult to measure and means different things to every company,” Protzman said. “What really matters are the experiences employees are having in the office, and once they experience better lighting, that they control, that gives them an enhanced connection to the outside world, that’s an emotional experience that’s hard to quantify.”

This feature was produced in collaboration between the Bisnow Branded Content Studio and Lutron Electronics. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content