Spaces   //   December 13, 2022  ■  3 min read

Poor workplace air quality concerns impede RTO plans

Concern about poor air quality in the workplace is having an impact on productivity and could slow the return to the office.

Approximately 74% of hybrid workers in the U.S. worry about the effect office air quality is having on their general health, with younger workers particularly anxious, according to research by smart building technology firm Infogrid. Some 20% of all employees do not believe their company’s ventilation system is adequate, and only 40% think their organization is doing enough to improve the situation post-Covid.

There are similar concerns in the U.K. where 53% of workers worry about the impact of poor ventilation at work, with many saying it impacts their ability to concentrate. 

Infogrid’s senior vp Ross Sheil said the pandemic has raised awareness of workplace air quality and employees are starting to speak up. “The research confirms that workers are more worried about their health,” he said. “Businesses have a duty of care to keep workplaces safe and productive, especially as more employees head to the office in the winter to save on personal energy bills.”

Building technology company Johnson Controls operates in 150 countries. Its clean air expert Mark Bouldin said the pandemic has highlighted globally the importance of good ventilation in the workplace.

“Clean air is not just about reducing the transmission of the Covid-19 virus, this is also about lowering CO2 and reducing other particles which are proven to impact on our health and productivity,” said Bouldin. “Organizations are always looking for ways to increase performance, happiness and comfort, and improving air quality is one way to do this. Clean air has also been linked to lowering the number of sick days taken by employees.”

There are relatively simple and cost-effective options for employers wanting to improve air quality but not compromise on their sustainability objectives.

The latest technology can monitor how many people are in a building or room at a particular time and use sensors to adjust ventilation. Using artificial intelligence and real-time data also enables companies to analyze their use of any system.

“What many people do not realize is that indoor air can be more polluted than outdoor air,” said Bouldin. “Those in charge of buildings need to create environments that are sustainable, efficient and healthy.”

Poor air quality can certainly impact on employees’ ability to concentrate if, for example, there are too many people in a small meeting room. One solution is to consider altering the design of workplaces and to choose more appropriate construction materials.

Senior project designer at Peldon Rose, Colm Murphy, said companies are focusing more on improving office ventilation and investing in antimicrobial lighting and air purifiers. These purifiers are placed inside the ductwork to neutralize viruses and bacteria that can be in the air.

“There are also low-tech approaches to air quality,” said Murphy. “You can introduce air purifying plants that promote employee well-being and improve the air. These plants increase oxygen in the office, which boosts fresh air levels and productivity.”

If employees are to return to the office they need to feel comfortable not only about the workplace heating, cooling and lighting, but also about noise levels. Stephan Lang, product specialist at Daikin Airconditioning U.K., part of the global air conditioning giant, said loud background sound can impact on employees’ stress levels, mood and concentration.

When the company provided coolers and heat pumps for a bank in Budapest, Hungary, the bank insisted that the system was quiet. The decision was taken to install the units in special cabinets.

“Our ability to concentrate and focus is reduced by the constant beeping and pinging of connected devices that want our attention,” he said. “There are ventilation solutions that allow the whole office to be heated and cooled while keeping decibels to a minimum.”