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FEATURE


SOMETHING IN THE AIR


Co-founder of Office Principles, Cyril Parsons looks at the correlation between ‘unhealthy’ buildings and lack of productivity and considers the impact of high CO2 levels in the workplace.


The link between environment and productivity is regularly covered in articles about the workplace. In fact, designing the office to complement productivity has become something of an art in itself. More and more businesses are taking the significance of colour, agile spaces and specific design factors on board in a bid to promote wellbeing, and secure higher rates of employee retention, while improving staff performance and results.


However, it’s always worth stripping back to the basics, if fully embracing this topic, and focusing on what can make a fundamental difference to our working day, starting with the very air that we breathe.


Back in time If we look back for signs of a connection between the physical office space and productivity, it’s noteworthy that designers began making buildings more airtight in the 70s, which is when indoor carbon dioxide started to become a problem.


With some workers reporting feeling ill in these buildings and a perceivable drop in levels of productivity as a result, a relationship between the two has been identified since.


Sick building syndrome The term ‘sick building syndrome’ was coined to cover unhealthy factors in the working environment, such as poor ventilation, and the affect these factors were having on the workers. The correlation between time spent in a building and symptoms such as headaches and feeling unwell for no apparent reason falls under the banner of this syndrome.


Heating, air conditioning and ventilation flaws have been pinpointed as the most likely contributors to sick building syndrome over the years, along with types of building materials and a lack of adequate fresh air supply.


It’s known that exposure to high levels of carbon dioxide can leave individuals feeling faint, dizzy and breathless so it’s important from a health point of view that levels in the workplace are regularly checked and monitored.


52 | TOMORROW’S FM


CO2 levels Workers’ performances decline when carbon dioxide levels are high and temperatures are too warm or too cold. Individuals are able to work much faster in lower carbon dioxide concentrations as opposed to environments where high carbon dioxide levels have an adverse effect.


Some offices have got so air-tight and crowded that the extra CO2 exhaled from packed in bodies in the workspace is having a negative impact on cognitive functioning and, therefore, on productivity. The only way to properly establish if this is the case is to regularly test the air quality of the indoor environment.


Pollutants are generally up to 100 times higher indoors than out of doors and checking the air quality can also help to detect other potentially harmful pollutants besides too much CO2.


Opening the window A common misconception is that overly warm offices lead to stuffiness and so air conditioning is cranked up as a result. The stuffiness is, in fact, due to high levels of carbon dioxide. This is a specific issue in newer offices where windows have been sealed and are limited as to how far they can be opened in order to address energy efficiency concerns.


Such misconceptions limit fresh air intake; a problem which is exacerbated when workers are office bound for eight hours a day, and longer, five days a week.


With UK productivity running behind a number of other European countries, we need to start seriously addressing the issue of office air quality and take advantage of the technology and innovations to measure carbon dioxide levels, along with other pollutants, to make the necessary adjustments.


In the meantime, it’s worth opening the window. www.officeprinciples.com


twitter.com/TomorrowsFM


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