Pack people into a meeting room and the longer the meeting lasts the higher the carbon dioxide (CO2) levels rise and the faster their cognitive ability declines – not just a little but some aspects by between 35 and 90%.
That’s according to research from air con supplier Siemens, which concludes that meeting rooms are often not a good environment for making important decisions.
Siemens says every time we breathe in, we inhale about 400 parts per million (ppm) of CO2; when we breathe out, we exhale 40,000 CO2 ppm.
As the CO2 in the room climbs from 1,000 ppm to 2,500 ppm and beyond, our basic activity declines by 35%, our ability to use information drops by 60% and our initiative crashes by 95%.
The normal atmosphere in a working meeting room is between 1,500 and 3,000 ppm of CO2. Opening the window, particularly if your offices are near a main road or city centre, may just exacerbate the problem because the levels outside may be even higher.
When the meeting room is heated in winter (increased by body heat output at around 90 watts per person) the atmosphere can become drier and be perfect for the spread of viruses such as colds and flu, which hang around in the air when humidity is low.
Meeting rooms concentrate the problem but offices generally can suffer. Back in 1970 office workers had an average of 56 square metres of space each. Now this is typically down to 14 square metres per person.
Jonathan Copley, of Siemens Smart Infrastructure, said: “In our efforts to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we have almost hermetically sealed modern buildings. The air can quickly become toxic. Even if there is a ventilation system, it is often poorly maintained and with inadequate settings. Controlling the CO2 levels can produce anything from 2 to 18% improvement in productivity. Controlling humidity can significantly reduce the spread of viruses.
“The solution starts with putting in a few, inexpensive sensors, so that you know what is happening in offices and meeting rooms. Control may be as simple as opening a window for a while or setting the ventilation controls higher and temperature lower. Installing proper air quality control systems can quickly be paid for through increased productivity, lower employee turnover and a happier workforce.
“Top tips for getting top quality productivity from your staff? Keep CO2 levels below 1,000ppm. Manage humidity levels to between 40 and 60%. If you work in a big city or industrial area check for Fine Dust particles which can cause respiratory diseases. Make sure people are working in daylight or daylight equivalent lighting, you’ll get fewer problems and absenteeism. Monitoring is easy. Fix the problems only if you have them!”