Flexible working needs flexible lighting

Although freestanding lighting, in the form of uplighters or combined up and downlighting, has been available for many years it has only had limited use in the UK, compared to many other European countries. With more and more organisations adopting flexible working practices, however, it is now proving to be the ideal solution for providing an equally flexible lighting installation.

There are a number of key reasons for adopting a more flexible approach to lighting, ranging from improved visual comfort for staff through to reduced energy and maintenance costs for lower cost of ownership. Whether used on its own or in conjunction with other lighting; freestanding or furniture mounted lighting systems offer a very practical solution, for reasons that are discussed in more detail below.
For example, the majority of fixed lighting is designed to providing a constant illuminance on the working plane, irrespective of the tasks being performed. Or, if it is adjustable, the user is required to access a complex lighting management system to make adjustments. And, very often, those adjustments will impact on a zone of luminaires and affect people at adjacent workstations.
At the same time, providing people with control of their lighting is very important. For the majority of staff, their work will alternate between different visual tasks, switching between screen or paper based tasks, so that their visual requirements are also changing. In addition, individuals vary in the light levels they need to perform certain tasks with, as a rule of thumb, older people requiring higher light levels than younger colleagues for comparable visual tasks.
In order to address this fluid situation, the lighting needs to not only offer a level of flexibility, but it also needs to make it easy for individuals to adjust their personal lighting. Failing to do this can have a negative impact on staff morale and, consequently, productivity. In fact, research carried out at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a leading establishment in workplace research, has shown that creating a user-friendly workstation can achieve an increase in productivity of as much as 3%.
A flexible lighting system that centres on either freestanding fittings adjacent to the furniture, or fittings attached to the furniture, offers a great deal of flexibility. It can be configured to provide just uplighting, or a combination of uplighting and directional downlighting – the latter making use of microprism louvres to provide precise control of light distribution.
This approach uses the ceiling as an extensive reflector to create a bright and spacious feel in the space, and can therefore be an effective alternative to fixed ceiling lighting. It also corresponds to the greater emphasis placed on uplighting in CIBSE LG7.
At the same time, the directional component can be controlled to adjust the level and direction of light incident on the work surface. In this way, the users can adjust the lighting to suit their tasks and personal preferences. Because of the location of the fitting, all of the operating controls and power displays are at working height for easy access and visibility.
Alternatively, freestanding uplighting can be used in conjunction with separate task lighting, so the benefits of the uplighting are retained while the user has control of their individual lighting from the task lighting. In this case, complementary styles of the different fittings help to retain a consistent ‘family’ feel to the lighting throughout the space.
On the move
In parallel with this, it’s important to recognise how the modern workplace has changed and has, in itself, become more fluid. Flexible working practices such as hot desking and touch down areas mean that far fewer workstations are the sole preserve of one individual – and each user will have different lighting preferences.
In addition, the growing popularity of project workgroups means that the layout of the space is in a state of constant flux, as workstations are moved around to accommodate changing project teams. Recent research shows that more than a third of workspaces are changed around at least once a year, and as the workstations move the lighting needs to be adapted to the new configuration. With fixed lighting this will often require re-location of luminaires and cabling – a costly and disruptive process.
Clearly, freestanding lighting is much easier to move around with the furniture – simply by picking it up and moving it. Similarly, furniture mounted lighting can be removed quickly and easily with just an Allen key and a screwdriver and, most importantly, no need for electrical skills. In this way, every time the workspace is reconfigured, the lighting becomes part of the overall furniture move, rather than a special job, thus saving the end client considerable time and money.
Furthermore, it is equally easy to add freestanding lighting to an existing workspace, to enhance or complement the existing lighting. So, for example, the existing ceiling lighting could be dimmed or switched off when not required and then switched on to provide lower ambient light levels when cleaners are working in the space.
Cost of ownership
Freestanding lighting is able to make use of the latest lamp and control technologies, in the same way as any other lighting and can even have sensors incorporated into the fitting. This ensures that the sensor settings do not need to be changed when the space is reconfigured because the sensor moves with the workstation and the two retain their spatial relationship.
For instance, if a photocell is adjusted to dim the lighting in relation to natural daylight reaching the work surface, it will continue to do so when things are moved around.
Similarly, with presence detection this can be very localised and set to switch lighting off when a single workstation is unoccupied. In contrast, most occupancy control in open plan offices operates in zones so that the lighting for a group of workstations remains on when only one desk is in use.
Freestanding lighting can also be used in conjunction with advanced lighting management systems, using DALI and other popular protocols to provide centralised control and monitoring of luminaire performance
A further cost of ownership benefit is that the lamps are located within easy reach, so re-lamping is very straightforward and does not require specialist access equipment. It’s also worth bearing in mind that fewer uplighters are required to light a space, compared to ceiling mounted lighting, resulting in fewer lamps to change, as well as lower power consumption.
As well as incorporating the latest technologies, freestanding lighting is also available in a range of contemporary styles that will blend with other furniture in the space. So freestanding lighting can not only improve the flexibility of the lighting installation, it can also enhance the aesthetics of the space through its light distribution and its visual appearance.
For all of these reasons, there are now very strong arguments for considering the use of freestanding lighting from the early design stages of a new build or refurbishment project. It won’t be ideal in every situation but it has great potential that is all too often overlooked.

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