The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that tens of billions of dollars are lost every year due to low office air quality impacting the health of office staff. The science of indoor air is so important that a report published by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health cited indoor air as one of the nine key foundations of a healthy office building.
You spend all day sitting at your desk. This means you spend all day breathing the air in your office. Perhaps it’s time to investigate how your office indoor air quality could be impacting your health. When suggesting the idea to your boss, let them know that monitoring and maintaining office air quality can drive productive changes that productivity and reduce absenteeism. The net effect is an increase in revenue.
Maintaining healthy indoor air quality (IAQ) starts with monitoring the air in the building and continues with taking steps to optimize it. Both of these practices are more important than ever as companies need to safely re-enter offices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What are the negative effects of poor office air quality?
The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health report gathers together the recent evidence. Studies have shown how air quality in office buildings causes low employee productivity, increased cases of absenteeism, higher operational costs, and chronic health issues like asthma.
What’s more, this is not a recent issue. According to a 1989 EPA Report to Congress, these implications have long been observed. The report states that adverse health effects brought about by poor indoor air quality result in lost productive years, an increased number of sick days, and lower efficiency while on the job.
Office equipment, furniture, building materials like wall and floor coverings, upholstery, and virtually every commercially manufactured item in your workplace emit chemical pollutants. They include polybrominated biphenyl (PBB), polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), polyurethane, formaldehyde, and VOCs.
To begin to improve indoor air – and turn office air quality monitoring into action – you need to understand the factors that degreate office air quality.
What factors create poor office air quality?
Various contributors affect office air quality. When you’re striving to meet indoor air quality standards for office buildings, you need to pay attention to the following metrics:
- Temperature – Environments that are too warm or too cold can influence occupant performance, health, and attendance. Striking the right balance between energy usage and wellness involves managing your space’s overall temperature.
- Moisture – Your HVAC systems can become inefficient or release unhealthy air with too much too little moisture. Moreover, relative humidity levels can cause dehydration, increased vulnerability to infection, and other health issues.
- Carbon dioxide (CO2) – Overexposure to carbon dioxide can impair focus, decision-making, and productivity. A leading study revealed decreasing office CO2 causes a 50% increase in employee scores on cognitive function tests.
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) - VOCs and other toxic chemicals can be found in everyday materials, causing respiratory and other health issues.
- Dust - Dust, or particulate matter, can also trigger health problems like asthma and allergies. Recent findings even point to particulate matter or aerosols acting as carriers for the virus that causes COVID-19.
An air quality monitor can help determine real-time sensor readings to give you actionable insights on indoor air quality. The data collected from air quality monitoring can help you and your team assess the health impacts on poor air quality, and identify which areas in your office building are affected the most.
How should we improve office air quality?
A study from Harvard and Syracuse Center of Excellence found cognitive scores improving by up to 101% in “green building conditions” – that is, conditions where VOC and CO2 levels are lowered, and ventilation is increased. A World Green Building report also saw 35% fewer absences from workplaces with healthy office air quality. These employee performance improvements can equate to $6,500 in additional revenue per employee per year, another study found.
If you suspect your office has an indoor air quality issue, it is best for everyone to act fast. Raise the issue with management so you and your officemates can get the data you need, and work toward a healthier, more conducive work environment.
Step 1: Monitor your indoor air
You can't improve your air until you know what is wrong with it. This is where office air quality monitoring comes in. A device like the Awair Omni can track the factors that impact office air quality – temperature, moisture, CO2, VOCs, and dust, as well as light and noise. The free Awair Business App and optional API or Software Dashboard can provide alerts, data, and actionable insights about your building’s IAQ With this knowledge in hand, you empower yourself to begin to improve your indoor air. Learn more about it through this guide here.
Step 2: Improve your office air quality
Once you've learnt what is wrong with your air, you'll know how to start improving it. Depending on your air factors, the methods of improvement will vary, but many of them are fairly straightforward. For example, if your PM2.5 is at unhealthy levels, you can:
- Check your HVAC filtersO
- Open windows (if the outside air quality is better)
- Circulate air
Step 3: Learn how to keep your building healthy.
Research more on how you can fundamentally strengthen the health of the building you live or work in and pass this on to your boss. Learning about the nine foundations of a healthy building is a good start. If you can, work with office management and try to secure a Green Building certification for the place you work in.
The Added Pressures of COVID-19
Office air quality monitoring is more important today than ever before. Companies are gradually beginning their re-entry into an office setting. After months of closing their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, employees gear up to get back to their desks.
In preparation for the possible return to your physical office, work with your manager to urge building owners and facilities managers to review their spaces and their current HVAC systems. They can either choose to update to more modern infrastructure, or just simply have their current system serviced. Either way, office air quality should be ensured to improve worker productivity and health. You can find more in-depth information about re-entry and the steps to prepare for it here.
It’s Time to Start Monitoring Your Office Environment
Smart and savvy companies know that better quality air = better-performing employees. But it’s not only the air that affects a building’s overall health. Intense or poor lighting can cause eye strain and migraines, which also affects productivity and focus. Even unhealthy office noise decreases employee performance on reading comprehension and memory tasks, reducing overall job satisfaction.
A device like the Awair Omni not only measures the factors that affect air quality; it also monitors ambient light and noise. Companies like BuroHappold and Airbnb are already reaping the benefits of monitoring and improving office air quality. Now’s the time for companies to start exploring how they can join them.
For information on Awair Omni as well as customer solutions for enterprise, you can review product features here.