The Future of Workplace Lighting: 6 Lighting Experts Weigh In

04/17/2015 11:45 am ET | Updated Jun 17, 2015

Imagine walking into your future office and the physical space actually knows you are there. The lights come when you walk into the room, perfectly dimmed for the amount of daylight coming into the space. The lights "know" that you need your immediate workspace a bit brighter than the 23 year old working next to you. And just because you are spending so much time at work these days, the lighting is programmed to bring the natural circadian rhythms of the outdoors inside with lower levels of light in the morning and brighter lights in the afternoon. This is the future of office lighting.

When done properly, the best lighting design is completely unnoticeable. Yet, when poorly done, lighting can completely compromise the design of a space. Lighting is one of those rare components us "average Joe's" only notice when it is painful. The trends shaping light are at the intersection of technology, sustainability, and human factors research which are converging to create endless new opportunities for design.

I spoke with six lighting experts from companies big and small about where lighting is headed and what excited them about future possibilities in lighting.

What is the key future technology being developed in the lighting realm?

The revolution in LED technology started in earnest 7-8 years ago. It has not been that long. LED brought us into color and the ability to tune light to create different environments and atmospheres for the worker and even transform interior spaces using colors to create brand awareness. The biggest thing our customers are looking for is, 'can I personalize light? Can I make it behave the way I want in the space I am in?' -Jefferey Cassis, Global Head of Lighting at Philips

It's not the fact that it's LED that makes it exciting and new. It's that it is easier for us [the manufacturer] to put features in. It's easier to dim. The cost is much less. This is all opening up and providing more opportunities to do things with controls. We can now mount wireless controls to desk furniture, integrate lighting and automated shading solutions or even create a controls interface on your computer. This is just the start of where things are going. -Brent Protzman, Manager of Energy Information and Analytics at Lutron

One of the controls pieces we are getting into is better health. We are now able to control light and what kind of colors or frequencies they give out. This allows us to work with human's natural Circadian rhythms. Since we spend so much of our day inside, can we bring the natural progression of light indoors? We need blue light in the morning and cool yellow light to wind down toward the end of the day. We are seeing light that does more than turn on and off, but can make more comfortable living environments. -David Kaminski, Marketing Campaign Manager at GE Lighting

OLED has been creating lots of excitement in the marketplace, but is still deemed a product of the future because of high cost and low light output. There are a few excellent transition products available now that can mimic the benefits of OLED. These thin and flexible LED light sheets are significantly brighter than the current OLED product and can be used in a wide variety of applications. The cost of flexible light sheets is coming down further enhancing the versatility in luminaire design, including shape, size and weight. While LED lighting is largely a point source light, OLED is a surface emission device, which coupled with its thin flexible form factor, will give OLED a competitive advantage in the coming years. OLED sales are projected at $1.3B by 2023. -Boyd Corbett, Director of Business Development at Heilux

What new opportunities will this open up for lighting design for interiors spaces?

Smart companies recognize that employees are really important and want to create personalized environments so that they can be productive. One of the things that really revolutionized office space was voice over IP. It fundamentally changed way the office is set up. We got rid of land lines and cable became dominant. We said, why can't we do that? At the same time, the efficiency of the lighting was getting more and more. Now, the same CAT5 or CAT6 cable that goes into your PC can be stuck into a luminaire which means your lighting can now connects with rest of the office. This really opened up personalized space environment. Philips just rolled this technology out for a large Deloitte building in Amsterdam. It was the first major deployment 6000 luminaires, with the same amount of sensors. They anticipate just from the data from the proximity monitors and sensors, they can figure out how to consolidate the office space and rent out extra space that is not being utilized. They can even tell if spaces have been used or not to decide which spaces need to be serviced by cleaning staff. And because it is so energy efficient, it becomes very easy to sublease and get tenants in. Jefferey Cassis- Global Head of Lighting, Philips

New LED technology allows designers & architects to break the convention of traditional ceiling design. We no longer have to have to be stuck with 2x2 or 2x4 circles or square patterns. Now you can create the functionality of traditional t-grid ceiling but with a clean, monolithic look. From a designer's perspective, they can now design the ceiling and lighting as a 5th wall. This helps enhance style and brand. -David Kaminski, Marketing Campaign Manager at GE Lighting

Open office spaces are all about removing barriers so that creativity and progress can flow freely. Lighting today must be smart--combining an understanding of time of day, occupants' patterns, and the amount of natural light already present--but also responsive, able to adjust energy output accordingly. Because of embedded sensors, constantly adjusting lighting for energy efficiency are now one less thing for building owners and occupants to think about, allowing them to focus more clearly on other business at hand. - Neil Joseph, CEO & Co-Founder of Stack Lighting

What challenges does the new "open office" create for lighting and how are you answering those?

With the shift to open office it becomes all about flexibility. To account for that you must have a system that is easy to adapt. In the past if I moved a conference room and I wanted to change the lighting for the conference room, I'd have to bring an electrician, cut lighting, rearrange the fixtures and patch the ceiling. With smart lighting, by using software we can regroup the fixtures with a computer. We don't need to renovate. This makes it much easier to adapt to necessary changes and customize when those people have different needs. -Brent Protzman, Manager of Energy Information and Analytics at Lutron

Task lighting will be even more important. With the advent of LED's you are seeing untraditional designs. You are going to see a lot more layered lighting. You will see lighting put where it's needed vs. let's light up the room in a blob of light. Lighting will be designed for the task at hand. IES came out about 1.5 or 2 years ago with new recommendations for light levels. Human factors are really coming in to the equation. The aging workforce may need brighter levels. For millennials, the electronics which they are always on become a light source, too. -David Kaminski, Marketing Campaign Manager at GE Lighting

Task lighting in general is no longer an accessory, it's a necessity. With traditional walls coming down and more natural light being spread to the masses, direct light to your workspace is now as important as an ergonomic task chair. Visual ergonomics are just as important as physical ergonomics, especially with an aging workforce. -Kyle Verplank, General Manager at LightCorp

What excites you about the future of lighting?

One area I find quite exciting is information on the health of the building. When you go to the doctor, they evaluate your biometrics. In the future we will be able to go into these buildings and do analytics. We will be able to look for trends and do predictive behaviors. That will be quite interesting. We will be able to look not only at how the building is performing now, but how will it perform in the future? Imagine you can connect lighting to the internet. So if it is going to rain that day, the building 'knows' and adjusts the light level. Those kinds of possibilities are really where lighting is going now. You can literally connect different attributes and create different behaviors. There are endless opportunities. Jefferey Cassis, Global Head of Lighting at Philips

Of course a lot of the focus is on operational efficiency, but the most important thing to consider is that these buildings are created for the workers in the space. The systems should be designed and implemented to maximize comfort FIRST, and SECOND energy efficiency and operational efficiency. This is not just because we are designing buildings for people, but because people are the most expensive part of operating a building. People are 100x the cost of the energy for the building. We must maximize for that. -Brent Protzman, Manager of Energy Information and Analytics at Lutron