Innovative Study Links Workplace Productivity and Air Quality

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In a new study on the effects of office environments in the UK, researchers found a direct correlation between office air quality and its effect on workplace productivity. The research was carried out by academics at Oxford Brookes University and LCMB Building Performance, with the backing of facilities company EMCOR, spanning across two years; researchers found that lower CO2 concentrations allowed workers to work up to 60 per cent faster. The study also showed that an increased intake of CO2 can lead employees to:

  • Poor decision making
  • Slower reaction times
  • Increased tiredness

To see how the UK’s workplace productivity levels compare with other countries, the study looks at GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per hour worked, finding that UK productivity is 26.2 per cent lower than Germany and 22.8 per cent less than France.

The study was supported by Innovate UK, who are also part of the Whole Life Performance Plus (WLP+) project. This project is a collaborative effort of experts in facilities management, building performance and property development, with the aim of providing a greater understanding of office environments and workplace productivity; two big focuses of the project are understanding how productivity is negatively affected by temperature fluctuation and exposure to CO2.

Over the two years of the study, workplaces taking part were tested with internet of things (IoT) sensors monitoring fluctuating CO2 levels. Employees were sent various tests throughout the day to measure productivity, such as proofreading and Stroop tests; from this, researchers were able to correlate performance on these tasks with CO2 levels taken from the IoT sensors.


Effects of CO2 on Workplace Productivity

Results from the study showed that employees’ test scores improved by up to 12 per cent when CO2 levels were lower. Work speed was also affected, with one group of employees working 60 per cent faster with reduced CO2 concentrations, completing tests in a mean time of 8.2 minutes, compared with 13.3 minutes with more CO2 in the atmosphere.

EMCOR UK Chief Executive Keith Chanter said: “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 offices across the country.”

The ability to open office windows is often highly controlled, due to concerns around energy efficiency – new office builds are often ‘sealed’; as a result office environments are heavily reliant on air conditioning. Even if buildings meet ventilation standards, this doesn’t mean that high CO2 levels are being effectively detected and reduced, and often lead to offices feeling stuffy – which can mistakenly be put down to high temperatures. As a result, offices waste energy trying to reduce the temperature, as well as create additional greenhouse gas emissions.

The limited amount of fresh air introduced into workplaces is also an issue, with external research showing that UK office workers only spend a maximum of fifteen minutes outside in addition to their commutes. For example meeting rooms, which are often sealed and occupied for a prolonged period of time can reach up to 3000ppm CO2, impacting concentration and productivity levels. This becomes increasingly problematic as CO2 levels are not recorded with enough granularity by traditional building management systems to evaluate the effect on building occupants.

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