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Our science fiction based ideas of future spaceships paint a picture of perfectly calibrated indoor environments protecting passengers from the inhospitable vacuum of space but also keeping them comfortable, healthy and productive. Our earth based and immobile modern offices have the same ambitions; to ensure occupants are comfortable, healthy and productive thereby improving the efficiency of the company they work for.

In a recent article for the Wall Street Journal entitled Why Office Buildings Should Run Like Spaceships, Chris Mims references a 2015 study led by Joseph Allan that looked at the effect of CO2 and VOC concentrations on office workers’ cognitive abilities. Chris concluded from all this that we need more high tech sensors and fancy ventilation technologies to monitor and improve air quality, in order to improve the productivity levels of office workers.

Back in 2015 we covered findings of the same report in our article Smart Building Management System Combats Office Drowsiness, stating that “the office environment simultaneously adds additional drowsiness drivers and a sleep-impeding atmosphere,” triggering biological conflict. This month our new report goes into depth about all the elements that impact productivity in the workplace, including but not limited to air quality.

“Traditional building regulations have led to well-insulated office spaces, which reduce temperature fluctuations but also reduce fresh air circulation leading to high CO2 levels. Smart environmental controls are one area demonstrating clear advantages to health and productivity at the workplace,” states our latest report – The Future Workplace: Smart Office Design in the Internet of Things Era

The report focuses specifically on how new ideas from science and design theory are utilising the latest technologies to maximize productivity of workers in offices. Environmental controls, lighting and remote working are all discussed in depth, but the report’s productivity enhancing ideas are not limited to technology, other workplace elements such as layout, hot desking and even biophilia are all proving their abilities to boost productivity in the office environment. It all comes down to creating an ideal environment for each worker, for the variety of tasks they undertake.

“Before people can strive for psychological needs, basic physiological needs must be satisfied first,” explains the report that includes analysis of Dr. Jacqueline Vischer’s ‘Model of Comfort.’ The model suggests that addressing physical comfort factors like the quality of light, air, temperature, sound, and ergonomics will have the greatest immediate and direct impact on productivity.

A recent Harvard study by physicist and building science expert Allison Bailes monitored 24 participants in two specially designed office spaces. Bailes found that when people were moved from an environment with low-carbon dioxide concentrations to a level of about 950 parts per million, they experienced a 15% decrease in cognitive performance scores for the people in that space. When she moved them to an environment with 1400 parts per million, she saw a 50% drop in cognitive performance scores, leaving little doubt over the significance of air quality in the workplace.

“The health and productivity benefits of good indoor air quality are well established. This can be indicated by low concentrations of CO2 and pollutants, and high ventilation rates. It would be unwise to suggest that the results of individual studies, even meta-analyses, are automatically replicable for any organisation. However, with this important caveat, a comprehensive body of research can be drawn on to suggest that productivity improvements of 8-11% are not uncommon as a result of better air quality,” states the World Green Building Council (WGBC).

This growing body of research places ventilation as a key factor in the workplace productivity discussion. Solutions may include smart HVAC systems in a workplace full of sensors that monitor air quality in real-time to ensure all occupants are supplied with ample oxygen for enhanced concentration. Solutions are not all high-tech however, other ventilation options discussed in our report may involve no technology at all.

“There is even a growing case for office buildings with windows that open, providing user control and all the benefits of fresh air,” our report explains. “Opening windows, as with ventilation strategies, will be highly dependent on climatic circumstances, the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures and the aspect of the building,” it continues.

The indoor environment is artificial and goes against our biological need for fresh air, be it by technology or otherwise the workplace needs to place greater emphasis on air quality or risk falling behind their better ventilated, more productive competition.

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