Around the globe, people are are becoming more concerned about the quality of the outside air they breathe. But not many people pay attention to the air they breathe inside, at home and at work.
A recent study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that the quality of air that employees breath is directly tied to their performance. This suggests that "green" offices aren't just better for the environment — they're good for your productivity and, by extension, your company's bottom line.
For the sake of energy efficiency, office buildings are better insulated now than in the past. But being so sealed off also means that the internal air gets recycled over and over, leading to a decrease in air quality over time.
One way to determine air quality is to measure levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chemicals found in paints, cleaning supplies, and a number of other common products.
In the study, participants were subjected to three levels of air quality: High VOC, like what is found in typical offices ("conventional"); low VOC ("green"); and low VOC plus added ventilation measures ("green+").
The participants — who included designers, programmers, and architects — worked 9-hour days in typical office-like conditions for a period of a week. The researchers manipulated the quality of the air and measured the workers' performance across nine different domains.
Result? Air quality had a distinct effect on performance.
Work done under green or green+ conditions was of a significantly higher quality than work done while breathing "conventional" air. Among the capabilities that improved with higher air quality were crisis response, strategy, and information usage — the last two showing close to a 300% boost in the green+ environment.
"These results suggest that even modest improvements to indoor environmental quality may have a profound impact on the decision-making performance of workers," lead author Joseph Allen explained.
Meaning, employers who are looking to give their company an edge would be wise to consider investing in ventilation and air purification systems for their offices.
Given the advantages of being in an office with high-quality air, it stands to reason that breathing clean air at work might also have long-term health benefits, something that deserves to be the focus of future research.
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