Property planners at GE's headquarters wanted to redesign 163,000 square feet of office space to be more appealing to potential new hires, more comfortable to current employees, and more accommodating to teamwork and collaboration—all while saving energy and reducing maintenance.
Among GE's many considerations were new LED lighting fixtures. It was decided that 6,500 square feet of Corporate Audit Staff space would become the pilot area to learn what new office lighting could do.
“We see a lot of young people coming from colleges and universities with top-notch facilities, so the look and feel of the workplace is important to them,” said Steve Griffin, senior audit manager for GE and a key member of the team behind the remodeling of GE's audit staff offices.
“Being honest about our old space—the high cubicle walls, the cramped corners, the yellowish tint—we knew we had to rethink what ‘modern' means and how it looks to today's 20-somethings. Just as important, we wanted to show the people who work here every day something special, too.”
Less is more
Griffin and team first decided to eliminate some lights entirely. More than 320 fluorescent fixtures—one for each ceiling panel—blanketed the audit staff's offices. To meet suggested light levels in the new design, the team was surprised to learn only half as many fixtures would be needed.
“After consulting with our colleagues at Current, we installed 160 new LED fixtures to be exact,” said Griffin. “We found out that many offices like ours are overlit and could benefit from having fewer lights, or simply by turning more lights off, which we've done here with the remaining fluorescent fixtures we didn't replace. Not to mention, it just looks better to begin with.”
Lower your defenses
Despite some objections, the GE team also decided to dispense with cubicle walls. Part of becoming a modern office, it reasoned, was creating a culture of teamwork and collaboration. The new design needed to bring employees together, not keep them neatly separated.
“At first, privacy was a concern for a few folks,” said Connie Sullivan, property leader for GE and head of the Fairfield renovations team. “After seeing the new workstations, however, we haven't received any complaints. The desks still offer plenty of personal space, and not having cubicle walls really opens things up in a dramatic way—the 45 to 60 audit team members who work here every day need to meet and organize on a constant basis, and now our space helps with that as opposed to hindering it.”
Sullivan added that bringing down the dividers also made it easier to use fewer LED fixtures in the new design. Without cubicle walls stretching to the ceiling, light can freely disperse— meaning less light is wasted and thus, needed.
“Before the swap, we measured light levels at 44 footcandles on the countertop,” she said. “Now, even with a 50-percent reduction in fixture count, we're getting 63 footcandles. Even though there's less light in terms of total lumens, you wouldn't know it because of the improved quality and distribution the LED fixtures give us. People say it feels brighter, but in reality it's not; we're just making better use of the light we have.”
Taking the temperature
The GE team also wanted its new lighting to set the right mood, and that meant choosing the right color temperature for its LED lamps.
“Before this project, we didn't know how many choices were available, from LED tubes with a warmer red glow all the way to a cooler blue that, studies suggest, can promote alertness and productivity in the workplace,” said Griffin.
“We installed a few different options and monitored them for a week, asking workers how they felt. At the end, we chose a lamp with a 4000K temperature that is roughly equivalent to the light from the midday sun, and already, people have commented on how natural the light seems. Before the redesign, the office almost felt like a museum, with the dusky lighting and dark carpets especially. Now you get a sense of energy and excitement instead.”
Results & Benefits
The success of the audit staff area makeover prompted GE's planners to move ahead with additional LED lighting installations at the 30-year old, 69-acre corporate campus. Employees now enjoy many dynamic new spaces that are also saving the company money in terms of annual energy and maintenance.
GE previously spent $108,000 a year to power 6,032 35-watt fluorescent fixtures (at 3,654 hours burned at a $0.14 kWh rate). Now with 3,016 LED fixtures using 41 watts—but lighting spaces more efficiently—electricity costs are expected to fall to $63,400 annually, a $44,600 savings.
With an L70, 50,000-hour rated life, the new LED tubes will also last much longer than the old fluorescent lamps.
“Since the remodel, we've had a number of senior executives pay a visit to the audit staff offices and come away truly impressed,” Sullivan said. “I think we learned throughout this project that LED is more than a cost decision; it's also about creating space people take pride in, and that makes them feel comfortable. That's hard to quantify, but it was worth it without a doubt.
“I think what we did here can be replicated anywhere. I would say start with lighting and see where it takes you, because we're here now and we love it.”