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Designing Office Buildings to Increase Productivity

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The New York Times reports that employers and employees in the U.S. spend an average of 45 hours a week at their office (a number which is probably infinitely higher in New York City), 16 of which are unproductive. Studies argue that workers, like athletes, work better in “spurts where we work hard on a few focus activities and then take a brief respite”. The Draugiem Group in a study found that the most productive individuals took a 17 minute break per every 52 minutes of work. However, for many professions, workers do not have the luxury of taking 17 minute breaks throughout the day.

So how can the re-design of office buildings (specifically skyscrapers) improve workers’ productivity throughout the day? As athletes perform better in certain environments, such as higher altitude for increased oxygen levels, so do workers in office buildings. One of the main factors that causes a decrease in workers’ productivity is high levels of carbon dioxide in the environment. A 2015 study exemplified how increased carbon dioxide levels have a direct relationship with lowered cognitive function. “The findings suggest that the indoor environments in which many people work daily could be adversely affecting cognitive function – and that, conversely, improved air quality could greatly increase the cognitive function performance of workers.”

The solution: green office building. The costs of the conversion or design for green office buildings will be offset by the high performance and productivity levels of employees. The 2015 study showed that participants working in green environments (buildings with low volatile organic compounds) had a 61 percent higher cognitive function, and those in green + environments (buildings with “enhanced ventilation”) had double the cognitive function. The increased cognitive functions were specific to:

  • Crisis response (green environments 97 percent; green + 131% percent higher)
  • Strategy (green 183 percent; green + 288 percent)
  • Information usage (green 172 percent; green + 299 percent)

Engineers, architects, and scientists, have conducted studies to improve air quality for space ships to go to mars, however, the same studies have been applied to increasing productivity in the work place as buildings and space ships are both sealed off areas (although obviously to different extents). So how can buildings create better air quality to improve employee productivity? Benjamin Kott, chief-executive of EnergyDeck, explains that installing modern heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems into office spaces will reduce carbon dioxide levels and pump through enhanced and filtered air back into the space. We have previously discussed the different types of technology buildings can implement to create a greener, more energy efficient environments, such as using solar panels and wind turbines to produce energy. Studies verify that using solar power, “high performance heat pumps” and renewable resources are essential, especially when designing the exterior and interior architecture of a building. For future developments, especially in congested cities such as New York, it is paramount that developers use innovative and environmentally sustainable methods not only to reduce our carbon footprint but also create better working environments for workers.

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