Improving workplace productivity by optimising the indoor environment
3rd September 2019

Productivity levels in the UK are known to lag behind those of other leading economies. The Office for National Statistics has found that the average UK worker is 26% less productive than a German worker and 23% less so than an American worker. This productivity gap can be attributed to economic factors, such as poor investment or inefficient processes, but also human factors such as stress, health and comfort.

We instinctively know that poor office conditions lead to dissatisfied, unproductive and unwell building occupants. However, until now the relationship between indoor environmental conditions and productivity has been largely studied in the laboratory. New research findings have demonstrated how improvements to our indoor environment at work could help improve workplace productivity.

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Innovate UK, the three year research project entitled Whole Life Performance Plus (WLP+) provided evidence and detailed insights into the relationship between poor indoor environmental conditions and dissatisfied, unproductive or unwell worker in real office environments. The main objective of the WLP+ project was to gain an empirical, evidence-based understanding of how to optimise working conditions and improve staff performance and productivity.

Between February 2017 and October 2018, the WLP+ project continuously monitored the indoor environment of two office buildings that represent UK working conditions – one modern and one older building.  Staff from the two buildings undertook over 7,850 surveys and tasks such as proof reading, numerical and Stroop tests in a variety of indoor temperatures, CO2 levels and Relative Humidity conditions. The lessons learnt were applied in another ultra-modern building.

The research found that when CO2 levels were lowered, people completed the tests dramatically faster and scored better.

  • · Test scores improved by up to 12%
  • · Where test speed was measured in one building, people worked 60% faster in lower CO2 concentrations, taking a mean of 8.2 minutes to complete a test in low CO2 concentrations, compared with 13.3 minutes in modest CO2 concentrations.

It’s clear that optimising the indoor environment will allow workers to perform at increased cognitive capability, speed and accuracy of work and output. Harnessed in the right way, businesses can convert this increased output into company-wide productivity, competitiveness, resource utilisation – both human and real‑estate assets – and return on investment with improved bottom lines. This conclusion, combined with the fact that every building that was reviewed could be optimised, provides a strong investment case for organisations to review and improve the indoor environmental conditions in all existing buildings and for optimising the indoor environmental conditions in new, existing or refurbished workplaces. The study highlights a relatively simple way for UK businesses and Government to increase the output of our economy by 2 to 3.5%, worth an additional £70 billion.

Detailed findings from the research are available here.

WLP+ project was collaboration between industry partners (LCMB Building Performance Ltd, Emcore, Constructing Excellence, British Council for Offices, Estates department of Kings College) and academics from Oxford Brookes University. The full report is available here.

About the author

Oxford Brookes University

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