‘Healthy’ buildings can improve workers’ performance

Improving lighting, ventilation, and heat in office buildings can boost workers’ performance and productivity and can even help them sleep better at night—which is why developers, architects, and businesses are becoming increasingly interested in “healthy” buildings.

In a March 10, 2017 article in the Boston Globe, Joseph Allen of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said that working in an office with higher air quality and better ventilation can raise employees’ cognitive function scores, and that shifting to more blue-enriched light that mimics sunlight can lead to better sleep quality.

“We spend 90 percent of our time indoors, yet we spend almost all of our time thinking about outdoor air pollution,” said Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science in Harvard Chan’s Department of Environmental Health and director of the three-year-old Healthy Buildings program at the Center for Health and the Global Environment. “What we’re doing here is quantifying what people intuitively know. When you’re stuck in a conference room that’s too hot, there’s no ventilation, you don’t perform as well.”

Allen also wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review on the importance of good air quality in boosting employees’ productivity. The March 21, 2017 article described two of Allen’s recent studies, both of which showed that workers’ decision-making performance improved when they were exposed to increased ventilation rates, lower levels of chemicals, and lower levels of carbon dioxide in their offices.

Allen said that improving air quality through higher ventilation rates is estimated to cost, on average, less than $40 per person per year, and that productivity benefits from doubling ventilation rates would be roughly $6,500 per year. “Ultimately, managers would be wise to routinely incorporate health impacts into all of their cost-benefit calculations,” he wrote.

Read the Boston Globe article: Can an office building make you healthier and more productive?

Read the Harvard Business Review article: Research: Stale Office Air Is Making You Less Productive