Lighting the way to a safe return to work


    July 21, 2020


    The post-pandemic workplace needs smart office technology more than ever

    Years from now, we’ll exchange stories about the great global pandemic we’ve been living through.

    Some of us will tell stories of loved ones battling with a deadly virus, or about the pain of not being there for our most significant family moments. 

    For others, it’s the cultural changes we’ll remember: video calls with our families, joining outdoor yoga classes, discovering an unexpected talent for cultivating sourdough. All these things have happened because by and large, we’ve made one simple change: we have avoided our workplaces and remained in our homes.
    Two laptops
    Photo: Scott Graham/Unsplash

    A tentative return

    Now, in many locations, we’re preparing to make a tentative return to our workplaces. Technology – and specifically lighting technology – could be an important ally as we make the changes needed to make them safe and free from infection.

    In a few short months, COVID-19 has completely changed the way we think about risk in our everyday spaces"

    Not too long ago, workplace health and safety was the butt of every joke, but it’s now relevant to all of us as we consider what a return to the office looks like. In just a few short months, COVID-19 has completely changed the way we think about risk in our everyday spaces.

    As waves of the pandemic spun around the world, the advice we’ve heard in most locations has been that unless it’s essential to be on site, we must work from home. So, we all turned on our webcams, made desks in the corners of our bedrooms or at the kitchen table, and collectively, we changed what it means to have a work-life balance.

    For me, it’s clear that that genie isn’t going back inside the bottle.

    The reality we knew before – the crowded commute, the nine-to-five rhythm, huddled meetings in a cafeteria booth – feels completely incompatible with the measures we need to take to address the current pandemic, and quite possibly, the pandemics of the future.

    The closely-packed, open-plan spaces where colleagues sit shoulder-to-shoulder look curiously dated in the age of social distancing. And being cooped up with a large group in a small meeting room has always been uncomfortable, but now there’s a heightened awareness that by working like this, we could be risking our own and our colleagues’ health.

    Not only that: our emotional wellbeing is at stake. We need to feel safe to be our best, most focused selves. We can’t do that when we’re literally afraid to breathe.

    overhead laptop
    Photo by Corinne Kutz on Unsplash

    Long-term thinking

    So, what will a post-COVID office environment look like? Makeshift barriers and taped-off desks can provide temporary protection, but we need to think long term. Moving to more spacious premises is a pipe dream for businesses facing both the immediate financial challenges of the pandemic and the possibility of a long-term economic downturn.

    Instead, the solution lies in being smarter about how we use our shared spaces, and in making use of the technology available to us to minimize the risk of infection, change the way we physically interact with our environment, and make intelligent choices about the physical distance we keep between ourselves and our colleagues.

    The solution is to be smarter about how we use our shared spaces, making use of technology to minimize the risk of infection"

    That technology is, for the most part, already there. Users of Signify’s Interact Office connected lighting system can make use of some new features to help building managers monitor the flow of traffic in the workplace, and help individual employees keep a safe distance apart. The space management application uses occupancy sensors within the connected lighting system to constantly monitor and feed back on how available space is being used.

    Building managers will be able to tell which high-traffic areas will need more frequent cleaning, and spot bottlenecks where it’s potentially difficult for people to keep the recommended physical distance from colleagues.

    Meanwhile, the Workspace app lives in employees’ smartphones, helping them see at a glance which work spaces are free and which areas are overly busy and safest to avoid. Additionally, the app limits contact with high-touch areas – like light switches – since lighting can be controlled via a user’s smartphone.

    And that’s just one solution. We can also think about how to make our spaces more hygienic. This is another area where light can play a surprisingly significant role

    UV-C light is an incredibly effective disinfectant that can be used on air, water and surfaces. All bacteria and viruses tested to date (including of SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19), respond to germicidal UV-C radiation.

    Our UV-C technology was recently tested by Boston University, which found that 99.9999% of the COVID-19 virus was inactivated after just 25 seconds. And a recent blog post from industry analysts Guidehouse Insights highlighted the potential benefits of Signify’s UV-C lighting as part of a drive towards intelligent buildings in a post-pandemic world.

    UV-C is a powerful tool, although it’s important that the skin or eyes of people or animals isn’t exposed to germicidal UV-C radiation as it can quickly cause damage. The golden rules are to make sure it’s properly installed and used, and that the instructions are always followed.

    Used safely, it’s ideal for disinfecting shared spaces like offices, as well as public transportation, industrial and retail buildings.

    upper air

    A day in the life

    Here’s how these two technologies alone could make a difference to a day in the life of an office worker.


    • Start the morning commute, stepping into a train that has been safely and effectively disinfected overnight in the depot using UV-C light technology.
    • You arrive early at the office. There’s no need to come into contact with light switches on your way in, as the building is equipped with sensors that register your presence and top up the ambient light for ideal working conditions as you move through your day.
    • On the way through the lobby, you’ll check your workspace app to reserve the desk where you’ll be working today. The Interact connected lighting system has been quietly collecting secure and anonymized occupancy data to help colleagues find a desk on a floor with acceptable occupancy numbers. 
    • Time for your first meeting of the day. The App will help you find and reserve a room, invite your colleagues, and navigate to your meeting via the uncrowded areas of the building. 
    • Once the meeting is over and the room is vacant, the occupancy data from the lighting system will trigger the cleaning services of the building to clean the room and prepare it for the next meeting. 
    • The day is drawing to a close. Have you used any specialist equipment? You’ll place it in a UV-C disinfection chamber, resembling a microwave, to be safely disinfected for the next use.
    • Through the day, the air has been continuously cleaned by the ceiling upper-room UV-C air disinfection systems. When the building is empty, UV-C lights will take care of meeting rooms, kitchens and bathrooms. Additional spot cleaning, using traditional chemical disinfectants, will also happen in the most trafficked areas, based on occupancy data for that day.


    All of this is possible, and it’s based on technology that’s ready and available now.

    philips foyer

    Choosing our best future

    We may never go back to working in precisely the same way we did before, but we can make our own transition as comfortable, safe and free from anxiety as possible. That’s also a responsibility we have to our employees.

    And we can choose to take the strongest and best lessons we can from these strange months we’ve lived through, separated from our colleagues and collaborating from basements and bedrooms. Many of my own colleagues have missed the personal connection of working side by side, but they’ve found ingenious ways to stay connected.

    We’ve seen our bosses work with their kids in their laps, and our teams know what we look like without access to a hairdresser for several months. These are funny moments, but they build empathy that carries across in the way we communicate and solve problems together. We’ve discovered how much we can do without regular business travel, which is great for the environment, too.

    And importantly, I hope we’ll come away from this moment of disruption with stronger, safer ways of working that will seem as effortless as the routines we were used to before, but will help us be even more productive, be happier in our shared spaces, and be even more ready for the challenges of the future.

    About the author:

    Jay Kim

    Jay Kim

    Product Manager Indoor Gen. Area Europe

    For further information, please contact:

    Signify Global Integrated Communications
    Neil Pattie
    Tel: + 31 6 15 08 48 17

    About Signify


    Signify (Euronext: LIGHT) is the world leader in lighting for professionals, consumers and the Internet of Things. Our Philips products, Interact systems and data-enabled services, deliver business value and transform life in homes, buildings and public spaces. In 2023, we had sales of EUR 6.7 billion, approximately 32,000 employees and a presence in over 70 countries. We unlock the extraordinary potential of light for brighter lives and a better world. We have been in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index since our IPO for seven consecutive years and have achieved the EcoVadis Platinum rating for four consecutive years, placing Signify in the top one percent of companies assessed. News from Signify can be found in the Newsroom, on X, LinkedIn and Instagram. Information for investors is located on the Investor Relations page.

    Meydan Bridge

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