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Low Quality Air means Low Productivity at the Office

PM 2,5 particles and lower ventilation have been found to be directly linked to slow cognitive responses at the working space.

We all knew this already

Some things are just too obvious for us not to suspect, even though we may not have the raw data available to back our suspicions up. It doesn’t take much to connect the dots: various studies have already pointed out at the terrible effects outdoors air pollution has on our health, both physical and mental. So, it is just a matter of logic to suspect that similar, if perhaps milder, effects can be expected in the stagnated air that we breathe indoors.

We know, for example, that bad sleep can be correlated to high concentrations of both Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and PM 2,5 particles, those nasty little bits of contamination that can cause a disaster in our respiratory system. Therefore, it is not outside of any logical bounds to suspect that other cognitive functions, like concentration and abstract thinking, may also be affected by these pollutants in our office air.

Seeing through the indoor fog

Last September 2021, a team at Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health published an interesting study. Led by Dr. Guillermo Cedeño Laurent, it was a one-year research project that looked at the acute cognitive effects caused by indoor air pollution. The scope was large, spread around cities in Thailand, China, India, Mexico, the United States and the United Kingdom, and it included engineering and architecture offices, law and real estate firms and technology startups.

All the participants were aged between 18 and 65 years. They were collected after an exhausting procedure looking for the right data samples. To be eligible for the test, participants had to speak either English, Spanish or Chinese, as well as not being smokers and colorblind. They also needed to own a mobile phone compatible with the study’s app, have a full position at the company and have his or her own working station. This was of primary importance, because the research team outfitted these desks with environmental sensors to measure real time rise of CO2 and concentration of PM 2,5 particles.

Participants were asked to engage in two types of tests whenever these sensors detected a buildup in the indoor concentrations of CO2 and PM 2,5. One of them, which intended to evaluate speed of cognition, required them to solve simple arithmetic problems. The other one asked them to correctly identify the color of words displayed on the screen of their mobile phones, and it was intended to evaluate their ability to focus on a very specific objective while irrelevant stimuli flashed around.

The results are in

Dr. Cedeño and his team found that an overall high concentrations of PM 2,5 particles, and a buildup of CO2, correlated with the employees’ reduction in accuracy and slower response time. Of course, there are subtleties to be found within the data. High concentrations of both PM 2,5 particles and CO2 accounted for low accuracy at the color-identification tests. However, the high concentrations of CO2, and not PM 2,5, were found to be responsible for the slow response time at the arithmetic tests. All in all, a general increase of these two elements in the office space will result in low performance.

The consequences are obvious. We need to improve the air quality in our offices if we do not want to see a decline in productivity. But doing so is not that simple. Yes, we agree with Dr. Cedeño; ventilation is important to filter out toxic indoors air pollutants. However, sometimes that is not the best solution. Why? Because as the air in our cities becomes more contaminated by the day, we always bring some of it indoors whenever we enter or exit a building. Whenever we open the windows.

CO2 is a natural occurring chemical inherent to the biological processes that keep us alive. The average human produces 500 liters of it per day, so it is important to ventilate an enclosed space to avoid toxic concentrations of it. However, opening all windows in the office to air it out is barely the most sensible option anymore. Dealing with PM 2,5 particles is another issue altogether. Although some of them are produced by motor vehicles and will fly inside as soon as we open the office’s windows, some of them are also produced indoors. For example, by tobacco smoke or by that nice little cooker at the kitchenette where everyone gathers on the weekend to eat biscuits just before closing time.

A layer of conscious architectural and interior design is needed to help deal with polluted indoors air. In further articles, we will talk about various interesting and passive solutions to disseminate concentrations of CO2, NO2 and PM 2,5 particles from our buildings. However, these are not magical fixes that will cure our sick environments behind closed doors. No matter how clever our ideas might be, there will always be pockets of indoors air pollution that will avoid any measurements against them. That’s the nature of the modern world.

Our AIR8 Air Purifiers

Where passive design fails, our technology comes in. With their low noise and low-energy consumption, our air filters are the perfect addition to any office space that needs fresh and healthy air that will contribute to the performance of everyone inside. At AIR8 we use the most advanced filtration in the market, with medical-grade HEPA-13 technology.

Our words are backed up by the CE approval given to our products and the various TÜV tests each of them has undergone. Depending on which model you chose, you will receive a product built with four to six stages of filtration and pre-filtration, like Cold Catalyst, UV-GI light and Carbon Filtration. They can do away with 99.97% of toxic particles hanging in the air, like those within the PM 2,5 range. They can even filter and be done with dangerous pathogens and viruses, like Covid-19.

By choosing us, you are acquiring a product that meets the highest standards of quality, with the best CADR (That is, Clean Air Delivery Rate) in the market. An elegant and high-tech air filter that not only will help improve the performance of your employees; it will also look nice and sleek as it effectively does its own job at the office.

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