The office environment influences us in many ways. Indoor air quality (IAQ) is an important aspect of that environment. It impacts our productivity, mood, cognitive abilities, and long-term health.1
In this blog, we delve into the vital connection between IAQ and professional performance, workplace well-being, and effective strategies for enhancing IAQ to benefit employees.
The Impact of IAQ on Productivity
The worse the indoor air quality, the harder we find it to be productive and feel good. Poor IAQ adversely affects productivity, leading to difficulties in thinking, concentrating, and increased mistakes. Several studies have shown that IAQ affects all these cognitive aspects and more.2 3 4 Key IAQ elements include:
- CO2: Concentrations above 1000 ppm result in drowsiness and irritability.
- VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds): Emitted from various sources, these lower decision-making abilities.
- PM2.5 (Fine Particulate Matter): Heightened levels lead to decreased speed and accuracy.
- Temperature: Although we have subjective comfort levels, increased office temperature reduces productivity.
The Impact of IAQ on Health and Well-being
Low indoor air quality in the office environment poses significant risks beyond mere productivity loss; it profoundly affects employees’ 1 health and overall wellness. While some health effects might appear minor, such as irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat due to indoor air pollutants, the consequences can escalate.
More serious health concerns associated with poor IAQ range from headaches, dizziness, and fatigue short-term to even respiratory diseases like asthma, heart disease, and cancer when we think of longer term exposure.5
The encouraging news is that improving ventilation at the workplace can reduce many risks for employee health and wellness. Proper ventilation not only reduces the transmission of infectious diseases but also alleviates symptoms related to Sick Building Syndrome (which we will explore further). Additionally, it curbs absenteeism, creating a positive ripple effect on long-term productivity.6
Recognizing the Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)
Sick building syndrome or SBS in the office environment could look like nonspecific symptoms like eye irritation and headaches, escalating during the workday and improving over weekends or when outside.7 According to the World Health Organization, signs that these symptoms are SBS could be experiencing them in the building or in a specific part of it or similar reports by most of the occupants.8
SBS symptoms, worsened by poor ventilation and indoor pollutants, hinder productivity and risk serious issues for office occupants. Addressing poor ventilation and minimizing indoor pollutants are crucial steps in identifying and mitigating SBS in the workplace environment.
Strategies for Creating a Healthy IAQ Workplace
Ensuring a healthy Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) in the office environment is crucial for employee well-being and productivity. This can be achieved through individual efforts based on personal comfort levels or in a more centralized manner.
Here are the key strategies to improve indoor air quality at the office:9
- Monitoring air quality and letting fresh air in when necessary: You can only control what you can measure, a wise man once said. Get to know your air quality patterns with an air quality monitor and see when and where more IAQ problems arise.
Aranet4 HOME Indoor Air Quality Monitor
- Taking care of the HVAC system: From making sure the air vents are not blocked to placing nearby devices mindfully and ensuring proper maintenance, there are many ways to keep the office HVAC systems in check.
- Humidity Control: Maintaining optimal humidity levels is vital. Understanding the balance between humidity and mold risk is detailed in a previous blog post.
- Dealing with Pollutants: Everyone plays a role in managing pollutants. Everyone should refrain from storing food at their desks or on shelves. Building managers need to organize maintenance, construction, and garbage collection thoughtfully. Office managers should monitor the supplies entering the workplace.
- Communication: Effective communication is key to IAQ quality control. It is imperative that everyone in the office environment understands the importance of IAQ and is ready to communicate any issues or risks to mitigate them. It’s a good idea letting your employer or the office manager know of the IAQ problems you or your colleagues are having.
Many of these strategies revolve around information. Achieving consistent healthy temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels is challenging due to subjective discomfort levels. Using an indoor air quality monitor is essential to analyze problematic areas, times, and types of issues.
Aranet4 HOME monitors empower you to start taking control of the IAQ around you by indicating real-time CO2, temperature, humidity and atmospheric pressure. It fits into your palm, pocket, and bag, and can quickly let you know if more ventilation is needed. If you use the Aranet Home App, you can also look for patterns in the historical data.
- The effect of perceived indoor air quality on productivity loss. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0378778804001823
- Associations of Cognitive Function Scores with Carbon Dioxide, Ventilation, and Volatile Organic Compound Exposures in Office Workers. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:27662232
- Associations between acute exposures to PM2.5 and carbon dioxide indoors and cognitive function in office workers. https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ac1bd8
- The effects of indoor air quality on performance and productivity. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15330777
- Indoor Air Quality. https://www.epa.gov/report-environment/indoor-air-quality#health
- Indoor air quality guidelines from across the world: An appraisal considering energy saving, health, productivity, and comfort. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412023004002
- The sick building syndrome. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2796751
- Sick Building Syndrome. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/earth-and-planetary-sciences/sick-building-syndrome
- An Office Building Occupants Guide to Indoor Air Quality. https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/office-building-occupants-guide-indoor-air-quality