What your people to be more productive?
Here’s a novel idea: open the window.
That’s right. Give them some fresh air.
According to Joseph G. Allen, assistant professor and director of the Healthy Buildings program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the air quality in your office affects your employees productivity. He is the principal investigator of the Cog Fx Study lead author of 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building.
These studies prove what we’ve known for years, there is a direct relationship between ventilation and a worker’s ability to process information, make strategic decisions, and respond to crises.
At Barefoot, we deliberately increased the amount of fresh air brought in from the outside. And why not? We started in a laundry room with a screen door left open most of the time.
Our next office was in an attic, which we immediately put opening windows in. Then we moved to an airport business park and chose an office building with windows that opened for this very purpose.
When we finally got around to designing our own offices from scratch, we made a big deal about ventilation.
Sounds so obvious and easy. Well, it’s not!
According to Allen, in the 1970s, efforts to conserve energy in the U.S. included tightening up buildings and reducing ventilation rates so buildings didn’t have to bring as much fresh air inside. This inadvertently led to a buildup of indoor pollutants and the birth of a phenomenon known as “sick building syndrome,” a set of symptoms such as eye irritation, headaches, coughing, and chest tightness that is still an issue today.
In other words, the windows were permanently sealed. Now you are dependent on whatever amount of fresh air comes in through the ventilation system. The rest is just circulating around.
Allen goes on to say, “There is a tendency to assume that, as long as commonly-used standards for air quality are met, it won’t be an issue. But these standards aren’t very high. One common international standard that governs how much air is brought in from outside, ventilation for acceptable indoor quality, does not even purport to assure ‘healthy’ air quality.”
Many studies have demonstrated that the amount of ventilation (fresh outdoor air brought inside), is a critical to our health. Better ventilation reduces sick building syndrome symptoms, cuts absenteeism, and reduces infectious disease transmission.
Allen recent study found that “breathing better air led to significantly better decision-making performance among (his) participants. We saw higher test scores across nine cognitive function domains when workers were exposed to increased ventilation rates, lower levels of chemicals, and lower carbon dioxide. The results showed the biggest improvements in areas that tested how workers used information to make strategic decisions and how they plan, stay prepared, and strategize during crises. These are exactly the skills needed to be productive in the knowledge economy.”
In other words, the better the air quality in your office, the better the cognitive performance of your employees. According to Allen, “Businesses would benefit from recognizing this and taking action to optimize their air quality for employees’ health and productivity.”
So let’s say you have a typical sealed building and you want to reduce sick days and get the most out of your people. What can you do to improve the ventilation without losing the efficiency of your heating and air-conditioning?
We asked an expert who works with some of the largest building portfolios in the country how he helps them achieve their sustainability goals and increase their ventilation at the same time.
Tim Grosse of E Squared Energy Advisors says, “The advent of IoT/Smart Building technologies affords building owners 24/7 automatic control over internal O2 and CO2 levels via sensors and smart HVAC controls ensuring that a very high standard of indoor air quality is met. With the systems we represent, building owners enjoy a 20% to 40% or more energy savings while significantly improving employee productivity.”
In fact, the Harvard University study estimates that a businesses will see a $6,500 per employee, per year increase in employee productivity. And with the energy savings, these systems pay for themselves quickly and many times back over the lifetime of the equipment.