The connection of indoor air quality and productivity

Most of us rely on an endless supply of coffee, but improved air quality could be all we need to get us through the workday.

The various health benefits aside, studies have also shown that indoor air quality can have a significant impact on the productivity of workers.

Poor indoor air quality’s impact on productivity

One study, led by researchers from the National University of Singapore, found that working in polluted conditions for a long period of time can cause productivity to decline.

The team monitored both the productivity of workers and levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5 - tiny particles found in the air linked to respiratory problems, heart attacks and organ disease) at two factories in China over a one-year period.

Both factories generally had PM2.5 concentrations above the European Commission’s standard of 25 micrograms/cubic meter (µg/m3) throughout, with one averaging more than three times that at 85 µg/m3.

Results confirmed that while short-term exposure to high levels of PM2.5 had little impact, exposure lasting for more than 25 days caused worker productivity to drop by 1%.

The impact of poor air quality on productivity is more subtle that its effects on health, yet even 1% could prove costly over the course of a year. The average European works 40.3 hours per week, and while 0.4 hours lost may not seem like much, that’s 2.6 days per year. Now multiply that by the number of people in your office.

For employers, that means less profit and more spent on overtime... but why should you care? Well, it means fewer evening spent in the office to meet a deadline, for one. Less stress, less chance of suffering burnout, and hopefully a better work-life balance too.

A simple way to boost productivity

The good news is that it works both ways, and improving workplace air quality doesn’t require drastic changes that will cost your employer more than they’re willing to spend (great news for your health and well-being!).

Harvard University researchers previously carried out research on 24 managers, architects, and designers to check for a correlation between air quality and productivity.

Participants spent six days in a highly-controlled work environment. Each day, with participants unaware, the air quality conditions was altered by changing the levels of ventilation, volatile organic compounds (VOCs - carbon-based chemicals with high vapor pressure, linked with headaches, nervous system damage, cancers and more), and carbon dioxide (CO2). On some days the environment minimally met acceptable standards, while on others the environment provided above average air quality.

Results from a cognitive function test performed at the end of each day showed that better air quality led to significant improvements in nine cognitive tasks, including strategic decision-making and crisis management. 

This suggests that better air quality provides a cognitive boost, resulting in better results and fewer mistakes.

Clean air makes sense for both employee and employer, but if yours is still unconvinced then this might sway them  -- Harvard estimates that simply doubling ventilation could be worth $6,500 (€5,850) per employee per year.

Checklist: 5 simple ways to improve indoor air quality

- Monitor air quality. Good news! AERIC’s air quality monitors temperature, humidity, CO2, VOCs, and PM2.5, helping you to make changes that matter.

- Open windows whenever possible. It gets cold… we get it, but allowing fresh air in is the best way to improve office air quality.

- Buy an office plant (or two). Plants can convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, which makes them an ideal co-worker.

- Invest in an air purifier or dehumidifier. Depending on where your office falls short, purifiers or dehumidifiers could help to optimise condition.

- Ensure vents aren’t blocked. A vent is useless if it can’t ventilate effectively. Check regularly to make sure there is no furniture or clutter blocking airflow.