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IES Hosts Virtual Roundtable on Impact of COVID-19 on Lighting Professionals

The Illuminating Engineering Society hosted a virtual roundtable last week to discuss the impact that COVID-19 has had on lighting professionals throughout the industry.

Participating in the discussion were Diane Borys (Noctiluca Lighting Design and Consulting), Megan Carroll (New York Digital), Erik Ennen (MNCEE), Bob Preston (Capital Electric Supply), Randy Reid (Edison Report), and moderator Mark Lien (Illuminating Engineering Society).

The participants each talked about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their work lives and businesses so far. Most are working from home, while a couple are still going into the office, but on a limited basis. All say that customer and employee well-being are at the top of their priority list.

Preston, representing the distributor perspective, says that while his business has been deemed an essential service, it’s anything but business as usual. To keep customers safe, the branches have adopted new protocols involving restricted building access, remote order-taking, curbside pick-up, and paper signing (in lieu of using tablets). While he says there have been challenges, including diverse reactions to shutting down construction sites in Pennsylvania and surrounding states, that the overall reaction to the changes has been positive. Employees and customers are embracing the new “normal” and working together. “Everyone seems to be relatively positively approaching this in a way that has the greater good in mind,” says Preston.

Ennen, representing energy services, echoed Preston’s sentiment of employee well-being being the first priority, saying the company has been working to “manage internal and external resources without compromising health.” As far as work is concerned, Ennen says that many programs have been paused with supplies being delayed and many states rolling out varied restrictions on shipments. He has heard from manufacturers predicting that it may take until the second or third quarter before they’re able to ramp back up and meet orders again.

Before the shelter-in-place orders went into effect, Ennen says that many building owners were taking advantage of their employees working from home and were ready to invest in lighting upgrades. With skeleton crews working at the buildings, there would have been little exposure to work being done and no work disruptions. “A lot of people said ‘Hey, I’m kind of down and I’m going to invest in my building. Come in and let’s get this job taken care of.” He says there was a mixed bag of some people wanting to move forward on projects, while others were freezing everything.

Carroll, coming from the manufacturer’s rep perspective, says that as of now, they are very fortunate that shipping is still strong and they have had little to no delays. As of the time of the recording, New York as a state was still open for construction, so there had been no large stoppage on projects, while she’s heard from a small local distributor in Connecticut that everything is grinding to a halt. One of her main objectives is to “communicate that we are open for business… and here to support you.”

Carroll says that while life is relatively unchanged despite the huge logistical changes, she does think that people will be grappling with the need for socialization. “There will be a pent-up demand to meet, to congregate, to exchange ideas, to brainstorm together without having sound bites interrupting,” she says. “I think that the positive thing it does to us all is it makes us take stock, step back, calm down and put our priorities in order.”

Borys, representing lighting designers, says that most of her projects are still going, with the exception of many arts and theatrical projects. She is in California where construction has been deemed an essential service, so not many projects have been shut down, with the exception of hotels due to drastically reduced travel. “Hospitality has been decimated,” she laments.

Borys says she is still receiving a steady flow of RFPs and proposals, with architects clamoring to add value to their projects. “Everyone is starting to see the value in lighting designers,” she says. The other positive she is experiencing is the new wave of connection and humanity being brought into the work atmosphere. With everyone working from home, she’s getting a glimpse into their lives, families and literal homes. “Because we are doing this all together, everyone has a lot more grace and a lot more appreciation for the balance of work and life.”

Finally, Reid with Edison Report, says that the lighting industry is being impacted significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic. While most companies are getting exceptions and being deemed essential businesses, there are some regions that are having shipping challenges (Quebec being one). Not to mention that Javitz, normally the venue for Lightfair, is currently a 2,000-bed hospital for COVID-19 patients.

And speaking of hospitals, Reid says the NLB is prepared to donate lights to remote testing tents, but is having trouble connecting to the right people to get the products to the front lines. He says lighting will not only help improve the productivity of workers tremendously, but will also add comfort for those being tested. If you know of a contact that can help with getting over 500 donated lighting products to the healthcare community, you can email Reid at Randy@nlb.org.

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