How air quality affects your work performance and ways to improve it

How air quality affects your work performance and ways to improve it

Have you ever stopped to think about how much time you actually spend indoors? Or, what the number of hours you spend at work are in a lifetime?

Getting up, going to work and coming home are just part of the daily routine, but the data regarding how much time we spend inside buildings and at the workplace is thought provoking.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average person spends 90% of their life indoors, which includes the office, home, school and other building environments. This means that you only get to experience the joys of the outdoors about 10% of your total lifespan.

In relation to time spent at work, the average person clocks one third of their waking hours at the office over the course of their adult working life. Therefore, your office environment has a major impact on your quality of life because it’s where you spend a good chuck of your time. In this post, we’ll reveal some significant facts about air quality at work as well as tips on how you can make it better.

The air you breathe indoors is not as clean as you may think

When you hear the term “air pollution,” you probably think of a large, highly populated city with smoke pouring out of factories and automobile exhaust fumes filling the air. When you think of “clean air,” you likely imagine your own home or office space, both of which are enclosed buildings that provide protection from the polluted outdoors.

Unfortunately, the opposite of what we think is what’s really true. The air you breathe indoors can actually be 2 to 5 times worse than the air outside, even if you work in a city.

This is because the buildings we spend most of our time in are usually built with materials that contain toxic chemicals; commonly referred to as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These chemicals leak out into the air over long periods of time by a process called “off-gassing” and slowly degrade the quality of the air you breathe indoors. A few examples include carpeting, dry wall, paint, furniture made with pressed wood or varnish, and countertops. If it’s in a conventional office building, chances are it has some type of toxic ingredient.

Common sources of air pollutants at work

Toxic building materials are not the only sources of air pollutants in the workplace. Other things that make the air unhealthy to breathe include:

  • Dust
  • Bacteria
  • Fungi and mold
  • Cleaning chemicals
  • Fragrances and cosmetics
  • Office equipment like printers and copiers
  • Improperly maintained heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems
  • Particulate matter that leaks inside from the outdoors

No matter where you live or work each one of these pollutants exist in some degree inside every building. Air quality becomes a concern when the concentrations of these contaminants become excessive and not effectively removed by the building’s ventilation system.

How indoor air quality affects your work performance

Your quality of life and work efficiency depend on clean air. In fact, research has shown that poor air quality decreases workplace productivity and increases dissatisfaction among employees. The total impact found on most office work performance is approximately 6-9%.

Other research suggests that decision making performance can improve by 60% when structures are built with green standards where building materials have low levels of VOCs; granted the ventilating system is operating efficiently.

What you can do to control indoor air contaminants

    There are steps you can take to reduce air contaminants in the office:

  1. Open windows

    If you can open windows in your office, this is a great way to ensure proper ventilation is taking place. Although this is not always possible during times of the year when it’s bitter cold outside, cracking a window on days that you can is better than never at all.

  2. Air purifiers

    One solution is to invest in a portable air purifier, which is a device that cleans the air around you by removing harmful pollutants.

    Air purifiers are quite fascinating when you get down to it and their ability to improve human health have been thoroughly researched and tested. If you want to ensure that you’re breathing cleaner air while on the job, an air purifier can give you that peace of mind.

    These machines use a variety of technologies to filter the air, however, the best type to use in a work setting is a product with a HEPA air filter.

    HEPA air filters are guaranteed to remove 99.97% of airborne toxins as small as 0.3 microns. This includes everything we mentioned in the list of pollutant sources above in addition to VOCs released by building materials and office equipment.

    The other thing you’ll want to look for when buying an air purifier is how much square footage the product can cover. If you buy a device that’s under powered for the size of your personal work space, then it won’t clean the air nearly as effectively.

    To get the right size air purifier (and best deal) for your needs, just measure the length and width (in feet) of your office area and multiply these two numbers together. This will give you the total square footage of the location, which you can then try to match when comparing the coverage ratings of different products.

  3. Plants

    If an air purifier doesn’t fit within your budget, or if you’d rather go the natural route, indoor plants are the next best choice.

    In 1989, NASA conducted a Clean Air Study and discovered that certain plants were excellent at removing indoor toxins from the air, which helps improve concentration, memory and productivity.

    NASA’s final recommendation was to have at least one plant per 100 square feet of home or office space.

    The top 10 air purifying plants include:

      • Peace lily
      • Red-edged dracaena
      • Florist’s chrysanthemum
      • English ivy
      • Variegated snake plant
      • Cornstalk dracaena
      • Barberton daisy
      • Flamingo lily
      • Dracaena
      • Spider plant