Air Quality Linked to Workplace Productivity

Could the air quality within indoor workplace environments be affecting productivity levels more than we may have realised?

A lengthy two-year study carried out by academics at Oxford Brookes University has been investigating the link between overall air quality in offices and indoor environments and how it directly affects productivity.

The research, backed by the facilities firm EMCOR and supported by Innovate UK (the Government agency responsible for developing innovation in the UK economy), provides evidence to suggest that workers are able to work nearly 60% faster and more efficiently when working in spaces with lower CO2 levels.

With current productivity stats stating that the UK is currently 26.2% less productive than Germany and 22.8% less productive than France based on GDP per hour worked, the study is a groundbreaking one as it becomes the first to take environmental factors and working situations into consideration.

The Impact of Poor Air Quality

Over the period of two years, the research team monitored two different workplaces – NATS (known as the UK’s leading air traffic control provider) and Kings College London.

IoT sensors were installed in each of the buildings in order to monitor fluctuations and other changes to the CO2 levels within each environment and employees from both locations were sent numerical and other proofreading tests to carry out each day.

The results soon indicated that:

In the building with the lowest CO2 levels, the employees test scores improved by up to 12%.

Within another of the buildings which was tested, workers were able to work up to 60% quicker, with stats suggesting that participants completed the tests provided to them in 8.2 minutes, rather than a longer period of 13.3 minutes when more CO2 was present in the atmosphere.

Whilst in the past poor levels of productivity has been blamed on IT problems and disorganized office spaces, these startling new findings will provide for some interesting food-for-thought for many employers and also for those involved with facilities management too.

Air Quality Findings a ‘Wake Up Call to Business Leaders’

Reiterating the importance of these results on air quality and its impact on productivity is the EMCOR UK Chief Executive, Keith Chanter, who further comments:

“When it comes to boosting our productivity levels, no stone should be left unturned when searching for ways to reverse current trends.

Monitoring CO2 levels and improving the indoor office environment is one solution that has been overlooked for too long.

These findings must serve as a wake-up call to business leaders that their workspaces are a source of competitive advantage and CO2 levels need to start being monitored as standard in office across the country.”

New Insights on Worker Health and Wellbeing

Professor Derek Clements-Croome, part of the BCO (British Council for Offices) Research Committee who also worked on the project, expresses how the research has helped to generate new and valuable insights on worker health and wellbeing, explaining:

“This work marks an important step in deepening our understanding of how people and buildings interact.

“The project is important in another respect, as it shows how effective collaborative work between practice and academia can be.

It is now certain that the environment we create affects people physically, mentally and socially, which in turn has an impact on the built asset value.”

This is an evolving field, and there is a need to continue this journey as our knowledge from the health and wellbeing disciplines increases.”

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Sam Rose