People who work in poorly-ventilated offices with higher levels of indoor pollutants and carbon dioxide (CO2) have significantly lower cognitive functioning which severely damages their productivity.
Linda Trim, director at workplace specialists Giant Leap, says that good ventilation is often the last thing people think about in an office.
“But it should be far greater consideration when you realise most people who work spend 90% of their time indoors.”
She notes that when designing offices, people typically think about layout and the look and feel of the space.
But interestingly, as buildings have become more energy efficient, they have also become more airtight, increasing the potential for poor indoor environmental quality.
“While design and energy efficiency are of course important, little regard is given to air quality. If it isn’t good, none of the other stuff matters because it diminishes worker productivity so much.
“It should no longer be an afterthought when you consider the high cost to businesses of having staff performing below par.”
Trim cited an October 2015 study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Syracuse University which assessed indoor environment.
“The researchers looked at people’s experiences in which both the participants and the analysts were blinded to test conditions to avoid biased results.
“The findings suggest that in office spaces in which many people work daily could be adversely affecting cognitive function—and conversely, improved air quality could greatly increase the cognitive function performance of workers.”
These results suggest that even modest improvements to indoor environmental quality may have a profound impact on the decision-making performance of workers.
The same study also ran cognitive tests on people working in enhanced ventilation conditions and compared them to those working in elevated levels of carbon dioxide which replicated the typical workspace.
They found that cognitive performance scores for the participants who worked in the enhanced ventilation environments were, on average, double those of participants who worked in conventional environments.
Researchers found that the largest improvements occurred in the areas of:
• crisis response (131% higher in enhanced ventilation work places over conventional environmental with elected carbon monoxide)
• strategy (288% higher as above )
• information usage (299% higher as above)
“Our understanding and refinement of the best working environment is still developing however it is clear that poor ventilation has a marked effect on worker performance.
“Improved air quality is a simple yet very effective way to get more out of people and help them feel better and more energetic at the same time,” Trim concludes.
Truly efficient people know there’s a difference between being busy and being productive. Harnessing the power of productivity is less about time management and more about managing energy – working smart instead of hard. Nashua has rounded up seven tips to help you perform more efficiently, no matter your job description.
Organise tasks you need to complete each day in order of importance – and go a step further with self-imposed hourly deadlines. Limit time frames and see how your mind focuses to get the task done. Not only are you accountable to yourself, you can also direct focus to one specific project at a time. Be realistic to avoid frustration.
When prioritising tasks, complete the most pressing jobs first to capitalise on high energy in the morning. Set aside time to respond to emails instead of allowing your inbox to dictate how you spend your day. Urgent mails and calls are (obviously) the exception.
Avoid mental fatigue
Scheduled breaks help improve concentration – especially if the break involves standing up to stretch or a short bout of exercise to get blood pumping, like taking a walk. Five to 10 minute breaks between long tasks can help maintain a constant level of performance, as opposed to a steady decline in performance from working without breaks.
Although it’s seen as a positive attribute, multitasking isn’t always key to increasing efficiency. In fact, psychologists say there’s no such thing as multitasking – our brains simply switch from task to task at a rapid pace. This results in lost time and productivity. Committing to finishing a single task before moving onto the next is a better, more constructive habit to form.
Interruptions throughout the day are inevitable, but the extent of the distraction can be mitigated. If possible, try work from different locations or isolate yourself for a certain period of time. For a subtle ‘do not disturb’ sign, wear headphones. And to the colleague who’s looking to shoot the breeze, communicate honestly to let them know you can chat later.
Online videos and phone notifications can also be distracting. Instead of checking social media every five minutes, limit it to every two to three hours (or longer) instead.
Procrastination can bring productivity to a halt. To regain control, take an hour to get organised and sort out admin. Delete irrelevant emails and file those you need to keep for reference. Don’t be tempted to start the actual tasks at hand: plan them first. Separating bigger jobs into smaller, achievable chunks reduces the feeling of being overloaded – a great incentive to crack on with the work.
Another trick is to build a routine to get into a working mind-set, like creating a playlist or turning off your phone before you get started.
Declutter your work space
A cluttered desk leads to unnecessary distractions. Instead of hoarding piled-up paperwork, transfer documents to cloud storage, like Google Drive and Apple iCloud Drive.
Research shows art in the workplace can increase creativity and productivity, so personalise your desk with one or two colourful accessories. Paintings and drawings from family, framed photos or desk plants all work well. Stick to two to three desk items to cut clutter.
According to research, after several nights of losing sleep – even the loss of just one to two hours each night – your ability to function suffers in the same way as not sleeping for a few days. You take longer to finish tasks, have a slower reaction time, are more prone to mistakes and can slip into micro-sleep (brief moments of sleep that occur when you’d normally be awake).
Set a regular bedtime and put your phone away an hour or two before you sleep, to boost quantity and quality of sleep. Practise relaxation techniques like breathing deeply and visualisation. Also use this time to reflect on your achievements and productivity.
Whether working from home or working in an office, sometimes the way you have your computer and desk set up can hinder your productivity. Sound a little crazy? Try working on a laptop in your living room, sitting on the couch in front of your TV. It sure sounds great, but it’s not ideal for your work habits. You’ll find yourself distracted in no time.