Do you think about the physical environment you’re working in and how it affects you? I mean beyond that basics of a good chair and an appropriately positioned monitor. This small series will introduce some things to consider that may help make your workplace a healthier, more productive and pleasant place to be.
First up, we’ll take a look at air quality.
We’ve all experienced those seemingly endless meetings with a bunch of people crammed into a room. After a while it feels like the room is way too hot and stuffy and you find it hard to concentrate and you just want the meeting over. You should listen to your instincts.
There are numerous studies showing that air quality can have a huge effect on concentration and productivity. They generally find that poor air quality can reduce office worker productivity by as much as 9%. Yikes! Multiply that across all the employees over the course of a year and that’s a serious dent. Interestingly there’s a measurable drop in productivity even when the occupants don’t consciously notice the poor air quality.
Be sure to have a read through those studies linked above, they’re pretty compelling, and if that’s not enough you should know that the World Health Organisation considers air pollution to be one of it’s top issues.
It’s also worth mentioning that the presence of COVID-19 makes good ventilation even more important to reduce the spread of infections.
Outdoor air pollution is largely outside your control but inside an office you have sources of pollution such as people exhaling carbon dioxide, off-gassing from furnishings, paint, computer machinery and dust. Then you may have an air system that cleans the air and/or replaces it with fresh air from outside. While there are building regulations ensuring minimum that standards are met, some of the studies show that these minimums are sub-optimal and by increasing the rate of ventilation you get a corresponding increase in productivity and general well-being.
How do you find out if you air quality is good enough?
There are now numerous devices on the market for measuring air quality ranging from cheap and cheerful (and not very accurate) to expensive professional kits. I’ve recently ordered something in the middle, a unit from Airthings measuring CO2, VOC, Radon, PM 1 and PM 2.5. That covers enough for our interests but make sure you pick one that uses a NDIR sensor for CO2. If you’re scouring aliexpress for something cheap, bear in mind the majority of basic kits use less accurate sensor types.
What sort of numbers are we looking for?
CO2 less than 600ppm is good
CO2 greater than 950ppm is bad.
Particulate Matter less 10 μg/m3 is good
Particulate Matter greater than 25 μg/m3 is bad
How do you improve your air quality?
This depends on your circumstances. The most energy efficient way is by removing sources of pollution. If you’re sitting next to a diesel generator or crammed into a room with too many people, perhaps don’t do that?
The next best thing to do is increase the rate of ventilation and/or use air filtration and purifiers along with regular cleaning. If you’re in a managed office building the ventilation could be doubled, but it would really depend on the office and it’s pollution characteristics.
If you’re working from home, then you’re the building manager and you can do whatever you want, including opening some windows. Unless you’re in California and there are wildfires, then don’t open your windows.
What’s the bottom line?
This study found that doubling the minimum ventilation rate would cost less than $40 per person per year while resulting in a productivity increase of $6500 per employee. Total no brainer.