It’s Monday morning and you’ve just arrived at the office. You put down your bag, slide into your seat and take a big breath of… stale office air. You know the scent: old cardboard, the Xerox machine chugging away, dust frying on the florescent lights. However, your office’s indoor air quality could be affecting more than just your mood – it could be affecting your productivity or even your health. As an employee or business owner, improving the indoor air quality of your workplace can do more than lift the spirits of your employees or be another corporate wellness ploy – in fact, it’s serious enough that both Syracuse University and Harvard University are both studying the indoor air quality of offices to see how it affects the workers that use them.
In this study, two offices had their indoor air quality tested: one was a green office, with improved ventilation and a concerted reduction in harmful emissions; the other was a standard office with no special thought put towards indoor air quality.
Productivity is on the mind of many businesses and employees these days, and the health concerns and dangers of stationary office life are well known and discussed topics. You only have to think of Google’s nap rooms and catered lunches to see how seriously some companies are taking the wellness of their staff, and improved indoor air quality is one method. In the Harvard and Syracuse University studies, employees were tested at the ‘normal’ and ‘green’ offices under two different conditions.
The first condition was having workers perform their regular tasks in standard office conditions. In the second condition, they performed the same tasks but in a simulated ‘green’ condition with improved indoor air quality: better ventilation, lower carbon dioxide, and less harmful emissions. During the tests with improved indoor air quality, employees performed a staggering 61% better on cognitive tasks, and in the already greened office, this performance level increased by more than 100%.
Poor indoor air quality does more than just affect productivity – it can lead to chronic illness or even Sick Building Syndrome, where the indoor air quality or conditions inside a building cause symptoms like headaches, cough, or fatigue.
If that hasn’t convinced you, other research has hinted that having a plants around the office can increase happiness and productivity, as well as actually boost the indoor air quality as the plants filter toxins from the air. In green certified buildings, tests have found a reduced rate of headaches and respiratory complaints. If a change to your indoor air quality can achieve all of this, it’s well worth your time – and money – to improve on the status quo. And if you need leverage to help convince your boss or colleagues that an improvement to indoor air quality can help, research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health suggests that putting $40 USD per person, per year, towards improved indoor air quality, can result in an $6500 increase in the productivity of employees.
This suggests that the burnt coffee and carpet mildew office-smell days are coming to a close – improving the indoor air quality of the office environment is likely to be an important focus for businesses and employers looking to increase the productivity – not to mention happiness – of their employees in the coming years