Feeling tired and unable to concentrate at work? Blame your office space. We examine the link between work performance and air quality.
You’ve definitely experienced it. The workday slump. Tiredness, lack of focus and concentration, and the inability to get any work done. There are many factors that cause these symptoms (i.e. not enough sleep, being sick, etc.), but what if there was something else that you had almost no control over that was making it hard to concentrate?
Research from a study at The University of Syracuse Center of Excellence revealed that in changing the air quality its participants worked in, their cognitive performance also changed. By varying the amount of humidity, temperature, and even light, the study showed different levels of focus and work performance. And although this is just one study, there is evidence that office environments have, in general, a poor level of air quality.
The Culprits of Poor Office Air Quality
In addition to the varying factors of the Syracuse study, the green lifestyle blog, UrbanMeisters, reported that many seemingly harmless aspects of the average office contribute to poor air quality and a lack of focus. But can your indoor air really be that much worse than outdoor air? While we’ve looked into this debate before, there are some specific factors that go into making office workplaces a less than ideal place for great air quality.
No Cross Breeze? That is a Problem
In an effort to be more cost and energy-efficient, it is common for offices to be built entirely airtight, which prevents any sort of air ventilation. Any allergens, bacteria, or pollutants that get introduced into your office air, stay in your office with no cross-ventilation. Studies have found that increased ventilation results in small increases in work performance, reductions in absences, and office work performance.
Rethink Your Printer Proximity
Laser printers emit a high level of ultra-fine toner particles which can be hazardous to your health, in some instances causing respiratory irritation or cardiovascular issues. Close proximity to a busy printer coupled with lack of ventilation means bad news for your breathing. An Australian study from Queensland University of Technology revealed just how much office equipment, and in particular laser printers, has an effect on indoor air quality:
They [researchers] found that the particle concentration inside the office area was five times higher during working hours when people were using office equipment than it was during off hours. They also discovered that the concentration of particles was higher inside than outside the office during prime working hours. The main source of those minute particles, which are dangerous because they are tiny enough to penetrate the airways and blood, potentially causing or exacerbating respiratory and cardiovascular conditions: laser printers.
You might want to rethink the convenience of having your desk so close to the office printer.
Check Your Temperature
Several studies have observed the effect of temperature on employee performance in the workplace and have found that too cold or too warm of a temperature negatively affects employees and results in work errors. The most productivity appears to happen when the office temperature is around an ideal 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. But why do many offices seem to be set below that comfortable 73 degrees? The Morton Report explains that it has to do with office equipment:
Some companies explain that the reason why office temperatures need to be below 73 degrees Fahrenheit is for maintenance — to prevent computer systems and servers from overheating. The problem is that the office isn’t just made up of office equipment or hardware. It also has humans as workers, and workers are not computers.
Of course, not everyone’s ideal indoor air temperature is going to be the same, but a comfortable environment to concentrate and work diligently in should be a top priority for employers.
Just Like at Home, Carpet and Upholstery Need Cleaning
Carpet, blinds, and other upholstered items in an office that aren’t cleaned or vacuumed regularly can harbor common allergens like dust and mold. The presence of these allergens in an airtight workplace doesn’t bode well for employee wellness. If you have an office dog, pet allergens like dander could be of more concern in your situation. In addition to temperature regulation, when humidity levels are not regulated, too much humidity increases the presence of mold, especially in carpet and other upholstered items.
When the air is very dry from constant air conditioning or heating systems, the mucous membrane lining your respiratory tract dries out, leaving your body’s natural barrier susceptible to breaking down and increasing your chance of getting sick.
The Office Facelift
Is your company thinking about giving your office a facelift? Common construction materials including insulation, paint, and adhesives have an effect on your breathing. During renovations and reconstruction, prolonged exposure to substances like the asbestos fibers found in insulation can actually scar lungs. Cost-effective paint options often contain lead and formaldehyde which contribute to an increased risk of asthma and allergies during exposure.
If More Sick Days Aren’t the Solution, What is?
While you may not have control over your office’s airtight design, temperature, or the insulation used in construction, there are some simple solutions that can help reduce the symptoms experienced due to poor office air quality.
Take a Walk
Getting up every now and then to take a walk outside, or even just to a different part of the building can get you out of the bad air and revive your energy a bit. It’s not a permanent solution, but it will help you feel a little refreshed to get back to work. Consider walking meetings or meeting outside if the weather is nice enough too.
Use a Humidifier
If you start noticing the air is uncomfortably dry, it might be time to invest in a humidifier for your office space. The Venta Airwasher humidified dry indoor air by way of a cold evaporation process. This process is also known for naturally reducing indoor air pollutants.
The Airwasher is quiet so it won’t disrupt your workday, in contrast to some humidifiers which can be quite loud and cumbersome to your indoor environment. Even better? The Airwasher does not produce steam or mist that over-saturates the area around the unit. You will completely forget the unit is there because you will be so focused on your work due to the perfectly humidified air.
Warm-Up or Cool Down at Your Desk
It doesn’t hurt to ask your building or office manager if they can better regulate the temperature. If you absolutely cannot control the air conditioning or heat in your office, a small space heater or desk fan is your best option for warming up or cooling down and getting back to work.
Open the Windows
If you have windows in your office, ask if they can be open for part (or most) of the day. A little airflow and cross-ventilation will help to circulate indoor air, preventing airborne pollutants from being locked in the office.
Keep a Plant on Your Desk
Plants are natural air purifiers. The presence of plants has also been linked to improved mood and focus, reduced chance of sickness, and, in general, just creates a better environment to work in. Lucky for you, we’ve already written a blog post about pollution-fighting plants for you to get a head start on finding your next desk plant.
Not every employee has control over their workplace environment, but it does help to be aware of the possible dangers in your office and what can be done about them.
Do you experience any disturbances in work performance because of office air quality? What solutions have worked for you?