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Back to basics: the work environment

almost 2 years ago by Alexandra Feeney
Air Quality Web

Forget nap pods, climbing walls and free fruit. When two thirds of employees say that they believe they are more productive in a work environment that supports their health and wellbeing, they’re not talking about a gym on site or bringing their dog to work: they want two very basic things more than anything else – natural light and good air quality. When more than two thirds also say that they would consider moving to, or staying with, an organisation that better provides these, then employers need to start listening.

Easily overlooked in favour of trendier perks, natural daylight or an outdoor view can have a significant impact on the employee experience, and therefore productivity. Over 30% of employees say they lose at least an hour a day due to workplace environmental issues, and while some of this can be down to uncomfortable temperature or distracting acoustics, the majority is cited as air quality and a lack of natural light. One study claims that exposure to natural light can help improve productivity levels by as much as 20%. Another showed that workers in a daylight office environment reported a 51% drop in the incidence of eyestrain, a 63% drop in the incidence of headaches and a 56% reduction in drowsiness.

Poor air quality is similarly known to make people drowsy (and therefore less productive) and only one in four people believe their office air quality is good enough. Indoor air quality is notoriously worse than outside air because it is continuously recycled and given the majority of us spend so much time inside with our office-based jobs, even the conservative 8-10% decrease in productivity attributed to air quality, is worth tackling.

A number of large companies are already changing their workspace to mitigate the productivity drop, as well as use it as a recruitment tool. Amazon’s centre in Seattle has a jungle area with 40,000 plants. As well as the associated natural light and air quality that comes with it, employees are encouraged to walk around this “nature” to reduce stress and stay active. Airbnb’s call centre is an open space that maximises natural light and, importantly, views of their surroundings. Some EU countries even have employee proximity to window views as mandatory. 

For many organisations though it’s not an easy fix if the office has already been built as a windowless void. But there are steps that can be taken to improve the employee experience even if there is no view. A study from Australia showed that hanging workplace art, depicting natural landscapes and nature, improved wellbeing, with reduced stress and improved fatigue levels noted. There are also sophisticated lighting solutions available that mimic the shifting daylight outside, changing colour and temperature just like the natural environment. 

What is your office environment like? Do you have a desk with a view or access to fresh air? We’d love to hear your comments.