By David Clements, Chief Executive of FUTURE Designs

More social distancing in offices = either fewer people in or a requirement for more space. The latter option comes at great cost when businesses can least afford it, so there must be a better way and more intelligent lighting systems may be part of the answer.

Around 2012, LED became mainstream in offices, bringing huge energy savings, reduction in maintenance and increased flexibility in design.

The next leap was Tuneable White, that could mimic daylight and be manipulated to reflect circadian rhythms. Like all technology it can be abused but it can also be used for good and this just might be the time when it can support businesses to continue to run at 100 per cent. This would also help people with school runs and childcare, increase productivity, interaction and give a welcome boost to the economy.

What can we learn from 2020? Maybe that had got to accustomed to functioning, working and thinking like machines rather than human centred? The deadly Covid-19 virus reminded all of us that the mortal human can never relax and believe all is ‘’OK’’.

The virus, dating back all the way into December 2019, continues to turn everyone’s life upside down as a minimum.

While taking small cautious steps toward recovery there are two distinct areas that require differing attention namely; domestic and commercial. We have seen total disregard for social distancing during protests, street parties, beach parties  with little enforceable objection from police or government yet when it comes to commercial elements there are ‘’strict’’ guidelines – wear a face mask on trains or get off! Do not touch merchandise in stores! Stand a metre at least apart!

Which brings me to the conundrum of commercial businesses opening offices – how many to a lift, in a canteen, in the break out spaces to name a few. Add this to the potential hazards of being on public transport at peak times, there is a distinct lack of desire to return to our former place of work amidst all the hazards we can encounter both when travelling and in our places of work. Research has shown that transport anxiety can in fact have a negative effect on work performance [1].

Our exceptional construction professions and industry has proved during the lockdown phase that we can carry on in a semblance of normality working split shifts and this has proved successful and allowed sites to continue to operate.

Tradesmen and women have adapted to working different hours in the same manner as supermarkets decided to open 24 hours a day many years ago and I firmly believe the commercial world will adapt to this. City traders are used to being at their desks at 06:00 they travel on public transport that is comfortable and with personal space.

So, to my point. The time is fast approaching where office workers are going to request the ability to come to work in quieter times and this will mean company’s offering shifts from very early morning to late at night and all times between so we shall see offices occupied at say a maximum of 40-50% between say 05:00 and 23:00. We know from studies that alertness comes and goes and can change by the minute, its estimated that between 6:00 – 9:00 and 15:00 – 21:00 is when we are at peak alertness, times that are not always typical of office hours [2].

The greatest hurdle for organisations will be ensuring staff are alert and able to carry out their duties as the body’s circadian rhythm will affect their abilities. Without alertness there can be no attentiveness, and without attentiveness no performance [2].

Research identifies while working in darker outdoor environments subjects showed to be less anxious and performed better with brighter light on during later work hours [3]. Highlighting to me that, we must mimic differing times of the day for people working out of normal hours and to successfully carry this out, building occupiers will have to look at the benefits of LED tuneable white lighting. With many studies highlighting that lighting and flexible work days can in fact affect productivity and performance [4]. It is a combination to be truly considered.