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Productivity is in the air

The link is clear: a healthy indoor environment leads to happier and healthier employees. But what many don’t consider is that this environment can also affect a 15% increase in productivity. Consultant Linde van den Brink explains how to improve the office environment – as well as the company’s bottom line.

In your Sodexo white paper, you cite a 15 percent leap in productivity – Can this really be achieved by simply maintaining a healthy indoor environment?

Linde van den Brink: Absolutely. The indoor environment affects employees both directly and indirectly. Unwanted draughts or noise for example causes employees to tire and become dissatisfied which ultimately plays a direct role in their productivity. Poor air quality on the other hand, can cause illness or health problems, which indirectly influences productivity.

Where working conditions are in good order, employees perform tasks better and more swiftly. Just imagine how great it would be if the people in your office were to come to work smiling, with a corresponding reduction in absence due to illness. This can be achieved by managing sources of air pollution and heat, controlling the air conditioning system properly and dealing with complaints effectively.

What is a key focus area for companies aiming to improve their workplace?

Linde van den Brink: As overheated environments can be detrimental to productivity on several levels, it is critical to focus on HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) issues. Individuals more readily perceive warm, humid air as oppressive, stale and musty than cool, dry air – irrespective of the actual air quality. In fact, nearly half of all office workers complain of overheating and stale, musty indoor air in the summertime.

Furthermore, the drop in productivity is more pronounced when the room temperature increases than when it decreases – simply put, overheating in the summer has a greater negative effect on productivity than a chilly office during winter. Research consistently shows that a temperature that is just a fraction below a comfortable level (between 20-25°C or 68-77°F) will result in optimum productivity. In short, companies can contribute to their future success by investing in extra cooling.

What are other investments companies can make?

Linde van den Brink: It is important to remove the sources of pollution – from dirty carpets, to dirty air conditioning units. Dust, chemical, biological or toxic substances can cause irritations, allergic reactions and even diseases such as cancer in some cases. Tackling cleaning at the source rather than combating the effects often has a considerable and robust impact and prevents all manner of side effects.

Well-maintained equipment is also vital in maintaining the optimal environment. Ventilation presents a simple, yet essential element. Increasing ventilation on a hot day will bolster productivity – but only if the filter is not saturated and worn out. The negative effect of circulating unclean air will override the positive effect of increased ventilation.

Is there an area of improvement that companies tend to overlook?

Linde van den Brink: More than two thirds of office environmental issues are caused when companies fail to repair faulty parts or fail to adapt equipment to structural changes. When a company undergoes a big change – whether this involves a physical change in layout or simply adding more employees to an existing space, they must consider how this impacts the positioning and efficiency of air conditioning systems or windows. These types of changes can affect the temperature and airflow, and therefore the quality of the indoor environment.

Linde van den Brink
Combining her technical and psychological knowledge, as well as an expertise in human environment interaction, Sodexo consultant Linde van den Brink works to create safe sustainable and pleasant indoor environment that improve wellbeing and productivity of end users. She has also conducted theoretical and experimental work at the Dutch Research Institute for Applied Sciences (TNO).

Patrick van IJsselmuide

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