It’s not uncommon for businesses to seek out new ways to boost productivity and get the most out of their staff, but new research has shown that these businesses may be missing out on one of the simplest, most easily overlooked aspects – the working environment. New research from the Centre for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard has found that those who work in offices with below average levels of indoor pollutants and carbon dioxide have a higher cognitive function and an increased attention span. For businesses that are looking to streamline and improve efficiency, perhaps making their office greener should be higher up the priority list. Not only is it better for the environment in general, it may actually be an exercise in cost saving and maximising resource.
A study from Environmental Health Perspectives, which was published in October 2015, looked at the performance of individuals in green and non-green environments and compared results, with extra measures taken to prevent biased feedback. The bottom line was that working in a typical office with limited natural light and an average level of pollutants seems to have an adverse effect on cognitive function, from decreased attention spans to slower problem solving. The research also concluded that increased air quality was a key factor in improving attention, focus and overall performance. The worry is that this kind of non-green office environment has become the ‘norm’ for businesses throughout the western world, and the research highlights how simple changes to the office environment can yield fruitful results.
According to The University of York, people in developed countries spend around 90% of their time indoors. Even in jobs where travelling and outdoor activities are commonplace, most big decisions and tangible pieces of work are still completed inside an office, and for many businesses the office environment is an afterthought. Businesses pump huge amounts of capital into different parts of their organisation in order to boost productivity and streamline processes. Usually this is about cutting labour time, reducing costs and looking for ways to better balance the books, but very little attention is paid to the productivity of workers and the impact their environment can have. Why?
Until very recently, things like the impact of the environment on worker productivity have been qualitative and unmeasurable, and businesses don’t like to spend money on things that can’t be measured. Studies like this one by Cardiff University should go some way in making businesses more conscious of the environment their staff work in. The advantages of a green office do not just stop at productivity though. Research by Ambius has also indicated that a greener office environment can help to reduce stress, increase attention spans and even increase psychological well-being.
These studies are compelling, and as more and more evidence is gathered it’s clear that the working environment is going to become more of a concern for businesses, particularly start-up companies and those looking to choose new office spaces. An employee’s ability to function optimally is intrinsically linked to their well-being, so we should expect to see businesses investing more time and effort in workplace environments. For a long time the focus has been on how and when we work, but this may see ‘where’ become more integral to the success of big companies.