From office manager to Office Hero with indoor air quality

Marie Bannister
June 11, 2021

It's a tough time for many businesses out there who may be soon returning to the office either partially or entirely. That's why we have complied our best advice to help cut costs, raise efficiency, and improve the bottom line, by acing indoor air quality in offices.

Across virtually every sector of the economy, businesses are currently under serious pressure to streamline their operations in order to survive and compete. 

When you’re devising ways to cut costs, maximize efficiency, and boost profit margins in your company, you might not think immediately about monitoring indoor air quality. But the data from indoor air quality monitors offers a shortcut to lower energy costs, more productive staff, and better use of space.

These benefits can help you get the very most out of your workspace, at a time of unprecedented challenges for many office managers.

Maximizing occupancy and energy usage

In spaces where people are working, high concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2)  can build up if the air is not ventilated properly. Studies show that employees’ cognitive function is 50% worse in a high CO2 environment1.

CO2 isn’t just important because it affects how employees perform; it also provides data on how effectively you are using space in your office.

We all emit the gas when we breathe out so, in conjunction with other air quality metrics, in tightly enclosed meeting rooms, school rooms or workplaces, high CO2 levels could indicate that there are too many people in a room with poor ventilation. You can then use this data to improve wellbeing, cut costs and maximize efficiency.

Energy costs

Substantial savings can be realised by matching energy consumption to how many people are in the office. Heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC), and other services can be set up to trigger only when and where they are needed. 

Scientists at the University of Alberta calculated that businesses can save between 20-40% of their HVAC and lighting costs by acquiring a source of good quality occupancy data and using it to control power consumption2.

Efficient use of space

Occupancy data allows you to identify if rooms are being overused, or if they’re sitting empty. 

The data may even show that you have more space than you need. One business saved $5.6 million by using existing workspaces more effectively rather than renting and refurbishing a whole new floor.

Matching services to need

Are your cleaning and maintenance services deployed to match actual usage patterns in different parts of the office? 

You could potentially reduce the time and work you pay for by arranging schedules better. Or your food service facility might be overproducing food, rather than reacting to the number of people in the building each day, offering another opportunity for savings.

Case study: Occupancy data in action 

The modern office community, and ‘living lab’, Proptech Bergen, used Airthings for Business indoor air quality monitors to slash energy costs by 20%. 

The team was able to automate day, night, and weekend modes on its HVAC system by linking the monitors to the building’s existing building management system (BMS), and dropping nighttime and weekend temperature by 4°C.

Find out more about the changes they made in the full case study.

Boosting employee attendance and productivity

Increasingly, employees are prioritizing indoor air quality when they decide where to work. The latest annual Savills’ What Workers’ Want survey found that it was considered among the ‘most important factors for your workplace’ by 86% of respondents3.

Indoor air quality has a measurable effect on rates of absence. The World Green Building Council has shown that a healthier work environment reduces sick leave by 58% on average. That equates to each employee being fit to work four extra days each year4.

 

The evidence that good indoor air quality improves productivity is equally compelling. 

A study co-written by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that better air, including reduced levels of carbon dioxide, boosted decision-making scores by up to 101%. It calculated that this delivers a productivity boost of $17,000 per employee, per annum. 

Temperature makes a difference too. When the thermometer goes over 25°C (77°F), researchers observe a 2% drop in work performance for each extra degree5.

The difference that air quality makes to performance is very significant when it comes to the bottom line. The Environmental Journal of Research and Public Health has estimated that an investment of US$40 per person, per year in indoor air quality results in a $6,500 increase in each employee’s productivity6

Indoor air quality in offices: more factors

The renewed focus on health and wellbeing, as well as growing body of regulations and legislation, means that these other indoor air quality factors are also important for office managers to consider.

Humidity

As they focus their attention on viruses, researchers are gaining a clearer understanding of how low humidity helps to spread infectious diseases. 

The Centre of Disease Control and Prevention found that 70–77% of flu virus particles could still cause an infection one hour after somebody coughed, when the humidity is only 23%. When humidity was raised to 43%, the percentage of infectious particles was reduced to 14%7.

When humidity is too high, on the other hand, this can cause mold to grow in your office, which not only looks unsightly and unprofessional, but also triggers allergies and eczema.

Airthings recommends maintaining 30-60% humidity levels, for the healthiest environment.

Temperature and air pressure

These conditions affect how well your employees feel and how efficiently they work. Studies suggest that 22-25°C (71.6-77°F) is the ideal range for productivity, with concentration and performance suffering at both high and low extremes of temperature8.

Excess air pressure can cause headaches, migraines, variations in blood pressure, or joint pain.

Radon

Radon is a radioactive gas that seeps into buildings through cracks in the foundations and is the second biggest cause of lung cancer. It is emitted naturally when uranium breaks down in the rock and soil beneath our feet. In workplaces like offices, radon can be the largest occupational health risk.

This matters for office managers, not just because the gas threatens the health of employees, but also because regulators are increasingly focused on radon through legislation like the US Radon Abatement Act (EPA 1988) and the EU’s Basic Safety Standards (BSS) directive.

Learn more about radon here. 

Airborne chemicals (VOCs)

Airborne chemicals (VOCs), are emitted by many paints, cleaning products, office supplies, furniture, carpets, polishes, and varnishes. They are known to irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, cause headaches, nausea, and dizziness, and aggravate asthma and other respiratory complaints.

Airthings for Business: a perfect companion for the Office Hero

To ace indoor air quality in the workplace, you need a reliable source of information, so that you can identify where issues exist and put them right. 

Airthings for Business indoor air quality monitors use wireless technology and long-lasting batteries, so they’re quick and easy to set-up, without any cumbersome installation process or wiring. Several sensors can connect to one Airthings Business Hub providing real-time data on levels of radon, carbon dioxide, and airborne chemicals (VOCs) as well as measuring conditions like temperature, air pressure, and humidity. 

In addition, Airthings for Business gives occupancy insights on your dashboard. This information can drive decisions on using energy, deploying resources, or rethinking how you use space, delivering efficiency improvements without time-consuming occupancy audits.

The information is accessible through a single, user-friendly dashboard, which can be viewed remotely. It generates automatic alerts when issues arise and provides helpful insights into which actions you should take next.

In the current difficult economic environment, every extra saving translates into a competitive advantage for your business. Indoor air quality monitoring offers a new way for office managers to add even greater value by cutting costs, getting the most out of employees, and improving efficiency in the office.  

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Indoor air quality monitors offer a shortcut to lower energy costs, more productive staff, and better use of space.
  • Measuring CO2 isn’t just important because the gas affects how employees perform; it also provides occupancy data on how effectively you are using energy, space, and other resources in your office.
  • Better indoor air quality has been shown to cut sick leave by 58% and boost productivity by US$17,000 per year for each employee.
  • To ace indoor air quality in the workplace, you need a reliable source of information, so that you can identify where issues exist and put them right.
  • With indoor air quality monitoring, office managers have the data they need to help cut costs, improve efficiency, and get the most out of employees.

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Sources:

1. dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/27662232/4892924.pdf?sequence=1
2. researchgate.net/publication/325373834_Data-Driven_Models_for_Building_Occupancy_Estimation
3. savills.co.uk/research_articles/229130/283562-0/what-workers-want-europe-2019
4. worldgbc.org/news-media/doing-right-planet-and-people-business-case-health-and-wellbeing-green-building
5. escholarship.org/content/qt39s1m92c/qt39s1m92c.pdf
6. mdpi.com/1660-4601/12/11/14709/htm
7. journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0057485
8. bbc.com/worklife/article/20160617-the-never-ending-battle-over-the-best-office-temperature
9. migraineagain.com/feel-4-ways-barometric-pressure-affects-health/
10. epa.gov/radiation/what-radon-gas-it-dangerous
11. .ukradon.org/information/workplace
12. epa.gov/radon/national-radon-action-plan-strategy-saving-lives
13. europa.eu/!CW87hP
14. healthlinkbc.ca/healthlinkbc-files/air-quality-VOCs