Fresh thinking: Why opening your windows could boost your remote work performance
Updated: Jun 12
As remote work becomes increasingly popular, it's essential to consider the potential implications of working from closed personal spaces on our cognitive function. One often-overlooked factor is the quality of indoor air in our homes, which may be significantly poorer than in modern offices due to often inadequate ventilation.
Most modern office buildings are designed to meet strict air ventilation requirements, ensuring a constant flow of fresh (or at least outdoor) air. However, many homes or apartments, especially in big cities, may not have the same level of ventilation. I discovered this firsthand after purchasing a CO2 meter to evaluate ventilation and air quality at home. After monitoring air quality in several different rooms over a period of a few days, I took it to my home office. There, with closed doors and windows - my usual practice up to that point - CO2 concentration easily reached 1500 ppm of CO2 in just two hours. For comparison, an outdoor concentration of CO2 is around 425 ppm.
It turns out that high CO2 levels don't just impact our planet and climate; they also play a crucial role in human cognitive abilities. A 2020 review* of studies measuring the impact of CO2 on human cognitive capabilities confirmed that even concentrations around 1000 ppm can impair complex decision-making measured using Strategic Management Simulation software tool, which approximates the type of decision-making common in business. Even slight increases in CO2 levels (for example from 600 to 1000 ppm or 900 to 1200 ppm) produced significant negative effects on various cognitive functions measured by the BARS test.
While there was some variation between the studies that used different experimental protocols, tests, and subjects, this should raise concerns for companies that have modern ventilation systems for their offices, as the shift to remote work could result in lower workforce performance. Therefore, if you're working from home and want to maintain optimal cognitive function, remember to open your windows more frequently to ensure proper ventilation and better air quality. Spring is here in the Northern Hemisphere so it is getting easier.
* Du, B., Tandoc, M. C., Mack, M. L., & Siegel, J. A. (2020). Indoor CO2 concentrations and cognitive function: A critical review. Indoor Air, 30(6), 1067-1082.