7 December 2018 | Herpreet Kaur Grewal
Worker performance declines when CO2 levels are high and temperatures are too warm or cold, according to a new study.
The two-year research initiative was led by academics at Oxford Brookes University and LCMB Building Performance, and supported by Innovate UK - the government agency tasked with boosting innovation in the UK economy - and FM company Emcor.
The research forms part of the Whole Life Performance Plus (WLP+) project, which brings together a consortium of leading experts in building performance, property development and facilities management.
Workplaces taking part in the study - including NATS and Kings College London - were tested over two years, with IoT-enabled sensors installed to monitor fluctuating CO2 levels.
During this time employees were sent numerical, proofreading and Stroop tests via email up to three times a day as part of the study.
A methodology was then used to calculate the impact of CO2 and temperature on perceived productivity in those workplaces.
With lower CO2 levels, employees' test scores improved by up to 12 per cent. And in one of the buildings tested, people worked 60 per cent faster with reduced CO2 concentrations, completing tests in a mean time of 8.2 minutes, compared with 13.3 minutes with more CO2 in the atmosphere.
Too often due to energy efficiency concerns, the opening of windows in offices is highly controlled, meaning the quality of the indoor atmosphere is heavily reliant on air conditioning.
This means, for example, when new offices are built, they are 'sealed' and air conditioned as standard.
Even if buildings meet ventilation standards, this doesn't mean that high CO2 levels are being effectively detected and reduced, and often lead to offices feeling stuffy - which can mistakenly be put down to high temperatures. In these instances increased energy use is expended on cooling via air conditioner systems and the unnecessary creation of additional greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.
For example, closer monitoring of the CO2 levels during the study revealed that fan speeds could be significantly decreased - by up to 50 per cent - without adversely affecting the CO2 levels in the workspace.
Importantly this misconception also limits the amount of fresh air that is introduced into offices and other work spaces.
This is especially pressing when coupled with research showing that UK office workers only spend a maximum of fifteen minutes outside in addition to their commutes.
For example meeting rooms, which are often sealed and occupied for a prolonged period of time can reach up to 3,000ppm CO2 - impacting concentration and productivity levels.
This becomes increasingly problematic as CO2 levels are not recorded with enough granularity by traditional building management systems to evaluate the effect on building occupants.