The pandemic abruptly disrupted workplaces overnight, transforming many homes into offices. Here are the newest takeaways from our Home/Work study.

To examine the role environmental factors in the home play on the cognitive function of remote workers, our team designed a study led by Dr. Anna Young that studied 206 office workers who worked in remote or hybrid-remote settings across the U.S. over one year. The team equipped participants with real-time indoor environmental monitors in their home workstations and bedrooms. To measure cognitive function, participants responded to a combination of surveys and cognitive function tests in a custom smartphone application.

The Home/Work study found the following key takeaways:

  • The indoor air quality in people’s homes played a crucial role in the cognitive performance of office workers who worked remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Home offices with too-warm or too-cold temperatures performed worse on tests of cognitive function, including overall “throughput” and creative problem-solving.
  • The researchers found evidence that higher CO2 concentrations indoors – a useful indicator of ventilation rates – also had an impact on participants’ ability to inhibit cognitive interference during these tests, even when CO2 levels were low.

“Our study underscores the importance of ensuring homes have clear air for clear brains while working from home. Indoor air that is too hot, too cold, or too stale may impair how well our brains can problem-solve and think creatively,” explains Dr. Anna Young, who was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Healthy Buildings program at the time of the study and is now a Fellow at Emory University.

“We know from prior research that the air we breathe at work and at school influences our cognitive performance, so these results are in line with what we know about how indoor environments influence our ability to perform at our best, be it at an office, school, our homes, or anywhere else, for that matter,” says Dr. Joseph Allen, Director of the Healthy Buildings Program.

In a previous study, the so-called CogFX study, the team researched the impacts of IAQ on cognitive function among 302 office workers in six countries (China, India, Mexico, Thailand, the UK, and the US).

More information about the CogFX study can be found on our website or this blog post.

Anna Young, Shivani Parikh, Sandra Dedesko, Maya Bliss, Jiaxuan Xu, Antonella Zanobetti, Shelly Miller, Joseph Allen. Home indoor air quality and cognitive function over one year for people working remotely during COVID-19. Building and Environment (2024). DOI: 10.1016/j.buildenv.2024.111551