Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have ascertained that air quality in office spaces affect the cognitive function of employees. Poor air quality inside workplaces therefore can negatively impact employees’ productivity, response times and ability to focus.
Their findings of their study revealed that offices with high levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) combined with lower ventilation rates are linked as causes of reduced accuracy and slower response times among office workers. The researchers did a series of cognitive tests and also found out cognitive functions are weaker in indoor environments that contain high concentrations of CO2 and PM2.5.
Lead author of the study Jose Guillermo Cedeño Laurent said the reason their research focused on studying offices is because most of the time, people in offices spend so much time indoors. As a result, they were able to establish that low ventilation rates also affect cognitive function negatively.
How the Office Air Pollution Study was Conducted
The study’s respondents were 300 office workers from all over the world including countries like India, Thailand, UK, US and China. The office workers are between the ages of 18 and 65, and came from various fields such as real estate investment, architecture, technology, and engineering. Moreover, they all had their own permanent workstation in their offices and worked there for at least three times a week.
Every workspace had an environmental sensor that monitored the CO2 and PM2.5, and every participant has an app that administers surveys and cognitive tests. They were told to participate in these tests during pre scheduled times or when the sensors catch that the CO2 and PM2.5 reach certain points.
There are two types of tests, one instructed them to identify the color of the words displayed, while the other test provided basic arithmetic questions. The first set, tests speed and inhibitory controls while the arithmetic questions evaluate the working memory and cognitive speed.
Their findings showed that offices with increased levels of CO2 and PM2.5 had slower response times and decreased accuracy on the first test with colors. The second test revealed that increased CO2 but not PM2.5 correlated with slower response times. With both air pollutants increased, they answered more incorrectly during the allocated test time.