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Internal report

Earlier this year, Environmental Psychologist Dr Nigel Oseland collaborated with Sharp to research the extent to which environmental factors, such as lighting, air quality and temperature, affect employee performance

Facilities managers take many factors into account when recommending an office space to clients. These range from ensuring the space will be large enough to house employees and equipment down to the number of power outlets. This consultancy is all part of the service, but customers are increasingly demanding more – both from the physical environment they work in, and from those who manage it.

The Sharp report, ‘Creating the perfect meeting environment’, shows that even small adjustments to these factors could lead to better meetings, better performance and better results. So what do FMs need to know about optimising the office environment – and how can this benefit the companies they work with?

Of all the environmental factors that can influence workplace performance, temperature is one of the most impactful. Temperature affects a person’s thermal comfort, which in turn affects performance. Human physiology and cognitive functioning is less effective outside normal core body temperature levels, so it’s vital that an office environment maintains a temperature in the ideal range.

The ideal temperature, however, depends on the activities that are being undertaken in a particular space as well as the number of occupants. Lengthy, seated meetings require higher temperatures for comfort than short, standing meetings, for instance, due to the body’s lower metabolic rate when seated or at rest. Whatever the context, the report found that the ideal meeting temperature falls within the 20°C to 25°C range. This was supported by evidence that demonstrated performance declines by two per cent for each degree above 25°C and 4.7 per cent for each degree below 21°C.

These findings suggest that technology that helps to monitor and control room temperature is well worth the investment.

Poor quality air in offices was also found to dramatically impact productivity levels. Offices that are located in polluted areas, such as central London, or by busy roads are at particular risk of cultivating an indoor environment that is high in carbon dioxide (CO2).

CO2 is the most common pollutant in air, and is used as a shorthand measure of poor air quality – by maintaining low CO2 levels, other pollutants are also likely to be reduced. Oseland explains: “High levels of CO2 can displace oxygen in the air, and in turn the bloodstream and brain, resulting in symptoms such as hyperventilation, rapid heart rate, clumsiness, emotional upset and drowsiness.”

Conversely, air quality can be improved by ventilation that circulates fresh, oxygen-rich air through a workspace, mitigating the factors that can lead to increased levels of CO2. The ideal volume of CO2 in an office space is defined by existing research as 350 to 1,000 parts per milligram (ppm) (typical outdoor CO2 levels are 250-350 ppm), with a recommendation that levels should be kept as low as possible. The research collated in the report found that improved ventilation can increase productivity by up to 11 per cent.

Lighting, of course, is an extremely important aspect of an office space. All employees need good light to do their jobs, including those who work predominantly on computers. Computers might generate their own light, but this is not adequate as a general source of illumination.

Good lighting in an office was found to improve performance by 15 per cent, with 500 to 1,000 lux appropriate for most meeting environments. This can come from a variety of sources, such as fixtures, daylight and ambient lighting. Access to daylight is especially important for productivity as it directly affects human physiology, health, performance and mood.

Oseland explains: “Daylight controls circadian rhythms and sleep patterns; when the sun goes down it triggers the pineal gland (located in the brain) to release the hormone melatonin, which induces drowsiness and aids sleep. Lack of daylight can therefore affect evening sleep patterns, in turn affecting alertness during morning work, and may also trigger early (afternoon) drowsiness.”

While most businesses are likely to acknowledge the importance of light, and particularly natural light, for worker performance, far fewer will have measures in place to automatically monitor and control it. This is where FMs can play an important role, by implementing technology that responds to different lighting levels quickly and efficiently.

The report makes it clear that indoor environmental conditions can affect performance, both in general office spaces and in meeting rooms. Temperature, air quality and lighting all have an impact on health, wellbeing, performance, mood, alertness and motivation, making them key factors for FMs to consider as part of the ongoing maintenance of an indoor environment.

By monitoring these factors, alongside room usage and employee activity, FMs can not only help businesses to boost productivity, but also save money and resource. It would be much more efficient if a building ‘knew’ when to turn the lights on and off, or when to cool a room in readiness for a meeting.

New developments in IoT technology promise to make it easier than ever to manage the physical environment. This technology has the potential not just to monitor conditions, but automate building management processes based on ideal conditions. Not only does this improve the experience of the individual, it can help to optimise the indoor environment – leading to a truly productive workplace.

About Sarah OBeirne

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